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Man and mother killed as fire ravages Somerville home

In an effort to determine the cause of this fatal house fire in Somerville, investigators sifted through the debris “on their hands and knees,’’ said fire Chief Kevin Kelleher. In an effort to determine the cause of this fatal house fire in Somerville, investigators sifted through the debris “on their hands and knees,’’ said fire Chief Kevin Kelleher. (Darren O’Brien for The Boston Globe)
By Matt Byrne
Globe Correspondent / January 18, 2011

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SOMERVILLE — A woman and her son died yesterday after rescuers pulled them from a fast-moving three-alarm fire that consumed the top floor of their Fairfax Street home, officials said.

The two adults, whose identities were not released last night, were pronounced dead at Somerville Hospital about 1 p.m., about a half hour after crews were called to the home, said Somerville Fire Chief Kevin Kelleher.

The intense blaze raged anew when one of the victims opened a large front window to call for help, allowing outside air to fuel the flames, Kelleher said.

“This fire gained tremendous headway before companies arrived,’’ he said in an interview.

Investigators from the Somerville Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal’s office continued to sift through the debris “on their hands and knees’’ last night to determine the cause, he said.

“We have no reason to believe this fire is suspicious,’’ he said.

Neighbors called 911 about 12:30 p.m. after spotting smoke billowing from a second-floor front porch at 65 Fairfax St., Kelleher said.

A grim scene awaited arriving firefighters. Neighbors reported people trapped inside and firefighters scrambled up the stairs of the two-story, two-family house. Outside, firefighters struggled to find a hydrant among the snowbanks, Kelleher said, even though snow had been shoveled from around the hydrants. Heat from the blaze snapped overhead power lines.

The firefighters “went right into rescue mode,’’ Kelleher said. “The first few minutes of the fire was very chaotic.’’

Darren O’Brien, who lives on Woods Avenue about 50 yards from the scene, said he watched firefighters carry one victim away on a stretcher.

“When they realized they were going to be pulling bodies out, they started kicking people out of the area,’’ said O’Brien, 33.

Firefighters from Somerville’s Tower 1 arrived first and began searching the home. They found the woman in the front of the building, Kelleher said. The man was found in the rear of the building at the top of a stairwell.

Both were unconscious when emergency personnel pulled them from the house and performed CPR, he said.

Kelleher said the house was occupied by five members of the same family, three of whom were not home at the time of the blaze. The Eastern Massachusetts Chapter of the Red Cross was on scene to assist them.

The house stands on a sloping side street near Route 16 in a neighborhood residents said is tight-knit.

“The mother was an angel,’’ said Louis Dagosta, 62, who lives across the street.

Dagosta remembered her son as a friendly, caring neighbor.

“He cried when my mother passed away,’’ Dagosta said. “He would call me every two, three days, asking if I’m OK, if I need anything. He was a good kid.’’

Kelleher said the fire caused as much as $500,000 in damage.

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said the two victims were the fourth and fifth people to die in fires in Massachusetts over the holiday weekend.

“It’s a very tragic weekend for fires in Massachusetts,’’ Coan said.

One person died in a fire in Taunton on Sunday and another in a Saugus blaze on Saturday.

In New Bedford early yesterday, a woman in her 50s also died in a fire in her home. Coan said she appears to have been smoking while using home oxygen equipment, a practice he says is out of control in Massachusetts.

“These fires are preventable,’’ Coan said. “For the past year and a half we’ve done everything we can to get the word out. It’s a problem that continues to plague our state and continues to grow because of the portable nature of these home oxygen units.’’

John Guilfoil of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.