Fatal fire victim identified

WESTFIELD – City fire and police investigators, working with the Massachusetts Fire Marshal’s office, have determined the cause of a fire Monday at General Shepard Apartments which caused the death of a resident and Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan will visit the city this afternoon to discuss the investigation.
Jennifer Meith, a Department of Fire Services representative, identified the victim as Margaret Lunden, 72, late this morning and said that Coan will speak about the cause of the fire at the press conference.
State Trooper Michael Mazza, an investigator assigned to the fire marshal’s office, reported today the status of the investigation will be discussed at a 2 p.m. press conference at the Fire Department headquarters.
Deputy Fire Chief Mark Devine, who had commanded the firefighting efforts inside the six story building during the fire, said the cause of the fatal blaze is under investigation but reports that the fire was contained within the first floor apartment where it began.
He said that although there was smoke damage elsewhere on the first floor, fire damage was confined to the single apartment where it started.
He also said that the victim was taken out of that apartment.
The fire was reported at 1:38 p.m. and drew, not only virtually all of the city’s fire apparatus, but also ladder trucks, engines and ambulances from the Southwick, West Springfield, Holyoke and Agawam fire departments .
City police also responded, under the command of Lt. Lawrence Valliere, the director of emergency operations, and the need for police personnel was so great that detectives and auxiliary officers were called to the scene.
The building was ordered to be evacuated immediately but calls were received from several residents who reported they were trapped on upper floors.
Firefighters assisted to ensure that all the residents left the building and reported at 2:23 p.m. that the fire had been extinguished although firefighters were still checking to ensure that everyone had been evacuated.
Firefighters remained on the scene but before 6 p.m. Devine reported that residents of the upper floors had been allowed to return to their homes.
First floor residents were obliged to seek overnight accommodations elsewhere.
Brenda Brouillette, regional emergency services director for the Central and Western Massachusetts office of the American Red Cross, said that eight persons were displaced by the fire but most found accommodations with family and friends. She said that three persons were provided vouchers for meals and overnight accommodations.
She also said that all of the residents who were temporarily displaced are back in their homes.
Firefighters report that a cat was also displaced by the fire and requested assistance from Ken Frazer, director of animal control operations.
Frazer took custody of the cat and reports the cat was transported to the Westfield Animal Shelter.
He said it had not suffered obvious injury but is scheduled to be examined by a veterinarian today.

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