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May 10, 2014

Fire chief: Dow Street two-alarm blaze not arson

City seeks permanent housing for fire victims

SALEM — Investigators have not figured out the cause of the two-alarm fire that ravaged a Dow Street apartment building early Tuesday morning, but they have determined it was not arson.

Fire Chief Dave Cody said the department had received “fourth-hand information” that someone had tossed a Molotov cocktail at the 52-60 Dow St. apartment building, which caught fire shortly after 1 a.m., leaving 45 residents homeless.

The fire started on a rear, first-floor porch, officials said.

“We went back down and questioned the person” who said a bottle filled with gasoline had been tossed at the porch, said Cody, and “found it was fourth-hand.”

Capt. John Payne, who heads the arson team, checked for traces of accelerants and unusual burn patterns on the porch but found nothing to indicate arson, according to the chief.

“If there was an accelerant, you’re going to have stuff dripping between the boards,” Cody said. “There was no burn pattern on the ground underneath, no distinguishable burn pattern from an accelerant in the wood itself ... nothing that would lead you to even suspect that something was used.”

Police and fire investigators also interviewed occupants of the building to see if anyone had been smoking on the porch prior to the fire. No one said they were on the porch that night, Cody said.

A love seat on the porch was burned in the blaze.

Investigators did determine that the porch was the point of origin. A cellphone video shared with investigators showed the porch on fire.

Meanwhile, the city is scrambling to find permanent housing for several dozen fire victims, most of them families, who are left without a home.

Although officials thought the majority of apartments ­— ones that had largely smoke damage — could be re-occupied within a few days, it now appears that all of the eight apartments impacted may undergo a major renovation and not be ready for months.

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