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Fireworks reports checked in deadly apartment fire


LOWELL, Mass. (AP) - A fire ravaged a three-story apartment building before dawn Thursday, killing four adults and three children, forcing tenants to jump or hand their children to safety, and leading to dramatic rescues from upper floors.

Authorities are looking into witness reports that the sound of exploding fireworks preceded the blaze, as well as a man's claim that a brother who died in the fire kept fireworks in his apartment.

The victims in this former mill city about 25 miles northwest of Boston were all found in units on the top floor of the building, which was just down the street from a fire station. Nine people were hospitalized with injuries not considered life-threatening.

Authorities say 48 people lived in the building, which had a liquor store on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. The roof entirely burned away, with the outer walls charred and the siding melted. Firefighters had to evacuate at one point as the roof gave way.

Sar Soth, 43, escaped from a third-floor apartment along with her two stepchildren and two adults by climbing through a window and down a firefighters' ladder. She was having trouble sleeping when she heard a boom, saw fire outside and started screaming for the others to wake.

Her stepdaughter, Soriha Proeung, 11, said she yelled for firefighters to bring the ladder to their window.

"We all felt like in five minutes we were going to die," Proeung said. "I couldn't see. My eyes, my chest burned. ... I just wanted to get saved."

Authorities have not identified the victims. But Thearan Sak said his brother, Torn Sak, and his brother's longtime girlfriend, Ellen Vuong, died, along with three of their five children: a 7-year-old girl, a 9-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy. The couple had two other sons who escaped the fire, he said.

Sak said his mother called him and told him his brother's building was on fire.

"I went to the scene hoping that everybody made it out, but when I pulled up ... I only saw two of my nephews," he said.

His brother, he said, enjoyed fireworks and had some stored in his apartment.

Neighbor Sarin Chun said she awoke to screams and saw someone hand a child out a window to another person on the street. Witnesses said tenants jumped out of windows.

A police officer on routine patrol was the first to report the fire, while several tenants ran about 100 yards down the street to a fire station to sound the alarm, Fire Chief Edward Pitta said. But the building was fully involved by the time firefighters arrived.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said she is "deeply concerned" by reports from witnesses that no fire alarms sounded. The building did not have a sprinkler system but was not required to, Pitta said. It did have an alarm system, and whether that was working will be part of the investigation.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said authorities are looking into the reports of fireworks but have not determined where or how the blaze started. Massachusetts law bars individuals from possessing fireworks, but they are legal just across the border in New Hampshire.

The Red Cross is assisting displaced tenants, and the city is accepting donations of clothing and other essentials, Elliott said. A relief fund has been set up at the Jeanne D'Arc Credit Union in the city.

A Cambodian community group and local Buddhist monks led a vigil near the burned building Thursday evening. Lowell has one of the nation's largest populations of Cambodian descent, including several of the fire victims.

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Mike July 11 2014 at 6:25 AM

Sure blame the fireworks and ignore the slumlords who own vast amounts of property in the Boston area.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Mandoist July 11 2014 at 4:05 AM

It's a miracle these old mill town 'fireboxes' don't go up more often. Lowell is full of them -- and owned by nonchalant greedy "landlords".

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
jdsept Mandoist July 11 2014 at 6:50 AM

Very true but another reason to take care as to what one does as to what they do in the apartments, like have no fireworks? Even in a well built all local ordinances closely followed, one should not have cans of gasoline in the living quarters. Also as time passes, a renter can bring charges against unsafe building violations. Some are just to lazy then go up in flames. Having potential flame feeding fireworks in an old building where your kids live says much about the tenants.

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BURNTWEENYRIFF July 11 2014 at 7:00 AM

Sorry but we let too many unstable troublesome people into our country. And they keep coming with no regard and no logic. I am sick of immigrant drivers with no insurance who drive dangerously on your tail with loud cars with unmaintained mufflers and think they are not doing anything wrong. It is this same attitude about everything they do , including having dangerous fireworks in an apartment building with no regard or concern for the safety of the other tenants.

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jgesselberty July 11 2014 at 10:59 AM

Blame the landlords. Sure. But, if you can afford a cache of fireworks, maybe you can afford to live in a better place, too. Or is the government paying your rent?

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Mocs July 11 2014 at 9:32 AM

Fireworks and probably 100 electronics plugged into an extension cord.

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megatouch44 July 11 2014 at 1:08 AM

Tried to burn us in home with fireworks
called sheriff and his answer was fireworks are legal till midnight
Welcome to Jasper County Indiana??

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1 reply
ordobtrebla megatouch44 July 11 2014 at 7:47 AM

If some kids shot fireworks at your home..
It is probably because you are a bad neighbor...Nosey Type...No Candy at Halloween...Always calling police...

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Linda Jones July 11 2014 at 1:19 PM

Eh, they were poor.

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bp4eva8998 July 11 2014 at 2:48 PM

This story is misleading. It says that "exploding fireworks preceded the blaze". I live in Boston, this story was on the news all day and night yesterday. All witnesses that were interviewed yesterday said that they heard an "explosion" 30 minutes AFTER the fire started. It isn't even clear that this noise was fireworks - it could have been anything. Investigators are not blaming the fireworks at this point and neither should we.

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JIM July 11 2014 at 3:23 PM

So just another story of liberals breaking the law and killing people. What else is new, this is not news, as lazy ignorant liberals are always killing people by breaking the law and committing felonys. Maybe we should tell the news if ever a day goes by and a liberal does not kill a person, commit a robbery, or just molest a little boy. I guess we will never have to worry about that news day.

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wlh1923 July 11 2014 at 12:11 PM

Spawling, ramshackle, wooden, 3 story clapboard, hovel housing 48 people. Its a wonder it lasted as long as it has.

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