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Attorney general loses home in Watertown fire

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly lost his home of 12 years yesterday when a fire apparently touched off by paint-removal equipment tore through his second-floor apartment in Watertown, burning everything inside.

Reilly's wife, Ruth, was home at the time, heard the smoke detector and went out to the back porch, where a heat gun used to remove paint had been left unattended. She saw the flames and escaped without injury, said Watertown Fire Captain Dan Walsh.

The Reillys lived in the two-family home on Palfrey Street owned by John Cameron, who was apparently painting inside the house when the fire broke out about noon, according to Watertown Fire Deputy Ron Barrila. Cameron also escaped without injury. A spokesman for Reilly was uncertain last night whether the Reillys had renters' insurance.

The state fire marshal's office said it is unclear whether the gun was left on, or whether it was malfunctioning, but the burn patterns suggest that the fire began near the heat gun.

"If you set it down near something flammable, it can catch on fire," said Barrila.

The department is continuing to investigate, but fire officials believe the fire started accidentally.

"We know for sure it's not arson," Barrila said.

The fire spread quickly, authorities said, eventually reaching the attic. The fire caused an estimated $200,000 in damage.

The first floor suffered mostly water damage.

Both families were displaced by the fire.

The attorney general, who was not at home at the time of the fire, has lived in the Watertown neighborhood for 30 years and in the house on Palfrey Street for 12 years, according to Corey Welford, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

Reilly was unavailable for comment last night, but his office issued a statement.

"Today is a difficult day for the attorney general and his family, who lost their home to fire. Fortunately, only belongings were lost in the fire, and no one was hurt. The attorney general's wife, Ruth, who was home at the time of the fire, got out safely, as did the nearby neighbors. [Attorney General] Reilly and Ruth would like to express their gratitude to the Watertown fire and police departments and off-duty Watertown firefighter Billy Morrissey for coming to their aid at such a crucial time."

Globe correspondent Martha Bartle contributed to this report.

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