Careless disposal of smoking material blamed in blaze that killed firefighter

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Scene of March 1 fire that destroyed a Berwick apartment house (You Tube capture) and fallen firefighter Capt. Joel Barnes of BFD. (Courtesy photo)

AUGUSTA, Maine - The Maine State Fire Marshal's Office said on Friday the likely cause of the March 1 Berwick apartment house fire that killed a firefighter was careless disposal of smoking material.

Berwick Fire Captain Joel Barnes succumbed to Probable Hyperthermia and/or Hypoxia after he was unable to escape a third-floor room.

Fire investigators believe the origin for the fire was the third floor exterior rear porch where smoking materials were "most probably disposal of ... into an unapproved receptacle."

Barnes died after he and Firefighter Mitchell Manfredi entered the building by the front door and moved to a third-floor room adjacent to the rear porch, according to a press release sent by the Maine Dept. of Safety. Once in the room, exit to the porch was impossible due to the volume of fire. With conditions rapidly deteriorating, an escape back through their original entry point became impossible. Barnes' body was located in that third-floor room unconscious.

Dr. Christine James of the New Hampshire Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be "Probable Hyperthermia and/or Hypoxia." The manner of death is accidental.

The Maine Department of Labor is conducting an independent investigation involving equipment and labor safety standards. The ATF Fire Research Laboratory continues to work with the data provided to come up with a computer model of the fire.

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