LOWELL (CBS) – The fire that killed seven people in Lowell last week was an accident authorities announced Tuesday. The fire was caused by an electrical issue and no charges will be filed.

The apartment building on Branch Street was gutted in the July 10 fire that killed five members of a Cambodian family and two others.

More than 40 other people lost their homes. It was the largest loss of life in a fire in the past 20 years, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said during a press conference on Tuesday.

“This fire was an accidental electrical fire that began in a concealed space between the second and third floor,” said Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan during a Tuesday press conference.

Investigators concluded the fire began in a void space such as the one depicted in this model. (WBZ-TV)

Investigators concluded the fire began in a void space such as the one depicted in this model. (WBZ-TV)

An electrical failure triggered the fire within a void space between the second and third floors, Coan said. That space, which contained little oxygen, ran the entire length of the building. Once the fire breached the space, additional oxygen fueled the flames, Coan said.

“It quickly became an inferno,” Coan said.

Also, Coan confirmed one of the families stored fireworks in their unit. However, Coan said the fireworks played no role in igniting the fire.

As for the building’s history, Coan said the fire and smoke alarms were properly maintained and inspected. However, after speaking with witnesses, investigators concluded the fire disabled many of the alarms in the building. Witnesses told investigators they heard alarms but that they sounded muffled. Coan said that description is consistent with the flames disabling the alarms.

The building, which was constructed in 1890, had no history of code violations, Coan said.

Officials have said they don’t believe the building had sprinklers and that they were not required.

Donate: Lowell Fire Victims Fund

The building was scheduled to be torn down Tuesday, but a lawyer representing the families of the victims obtained a temporary restraining order Monday to block crews from tearing it down.

A hearing on the order was scheduled for Thursday.

The families’ attorney said he wants to work with officials investigating the fire but he would conduct a private inquiry if that was not possible.


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