Officials: Investigation of Lowell Fire That Killed 7 Begins

Four adults and three children were killed in a 3-alarm fire at an apartment building at 73-81 Branch Street in Lowell early Thursday morning.

Officials told reporters during an afternoon press conference that victims had been removed from the building and transferred to the medical examiner’s office.

Investigators will now begin to piece together what caused the deadly blaze, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said.

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“We’re going to take a very hard and strong look at the history of this building,” he said. “What has occurred to this building over the years, building permits...violations which may have occurred, citations that may have been issued.”

Coan told reporters that the investigation would examine claims from residents and first responders that fire alarms were not audible in the building.

“Some [residents] say they heard a sound...whether it was an alarm or not is very hard to infer at this time,” he said. “Clearly, there are other residents [who] heard no alarms.”

Inspectors will also examine claims that fireworks were stored in the building, though Coan said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the cause of the fire.

Victims:

The Boston Globe reports that a family of five, as well as a woman who was leaving the building but returned to try and save her dog, were among those killed.

Relatives identified six of those killed in the fire to the Globe: Torn Sak, his long-time girlfriend Ellen Vuong and three of their children 12-year-old Anthony Sak, nine-year-old Ryan Sak and seven-year-old Sayori Sak. Tina Christakos, 38, was also identified by her uncle at the scene.

Coan said five were found in an apartment in the back right corner of the building, and the other two were found in the back left corner apartment. The seventh victim remains unidentified.

In addition to the fatalities, Ryan said nine people were transported to area hospitals with injuries that have since been determined to be non-life-threatening.

The fire:

The fire was first reported at approximately 3:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. Fire Chief Edward Pitta said at a morning press conference that a police officer on routine patrol happened to see the fire and called it in. Additionally, Pitta said that residents ran down the street to the fire station, which was approximately 100 yards away, to notify firefighters.

The building was not required to have a sprinkler system, Coan said.

By the time crews arrived, the building was fully involved and eventually went to three alarms. The response included fire companies from Lowell as well as surrounding towns, but officials said fighting the “fast-moving” fire was difficult because the building did not have a sprinkler system. As a result, crews were forced to use ladder trucks to rescue five people from the upper floors.

The scene of a 3-alarm fire in Lowell that has left several people unaccounted for.
Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe

The building had 48 residents and some reports indicated that some of those people who lived on the upper floors were forced to take extreme measures to escape the flames. Journalists from WHDH and WBZ, including WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Carl Stevens, reports that residents “were jumping out of windows to escape the fire in Lowell.”

According to city records, the building is owned by Sanjay Patel and DK Ram LLC. Those records also indicate that it was built in 1890.

According to Middlesex County records, it was purchased in December 2007 for $1.88 million. Ryan said that they had been in touch with the building’s owner and that the city had provided all of the building’s relevant records.

The Boston Globe interviewed Patel, who said he was “in shock” and that the building “gets inspected every year.”