Five injured, 21 displaced in Plymouth fire started by cigarette; officer rescues residents

A four-alarm fire at a condominium building in Plymouth early Saturday morning displaced 21 residents and hospitalized five, one with a severe leg injury, fire officials said.

Plymouth Fire Chief G. Edward Bradley said the fire, which was reported just after 2:30 a.m., started when a woman using an oxygen machine dropped her cigarette on the floor. The cigarette burned through the machine’s tubing, igniting the oxygen flowing through it.

Bradley said that 911 calls received by Plymouth dispatchers were made by neighbors who heard panicked residents of the Tideview Path building yelling for help.

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“It’s a scary time of night for us, because people are in their deepest sleep and won’t hear the alarms or commotion,” Bradley said. “From the initial calls we were getting, we fully expected it to be way worse of an outcome than it was.”

Firefighters arriving at the scene saw heavy smoke billowing out of one side of the building and flames shooting out the back.

A woman trapped on her second-story deck jumped to the ground, severely injuring her leg, Bradley said. She was transported by ambulance to the South Shore Hospital. Her condition was unknown Saturday morning.

A man on a third-floor deck was also poised to jump, but police officers convinced the man to wait for firefighters, who then rescued the man unharmed using a ground ladder.

Meanwhile, the woman whose cigarette sparked the blaze walked back into the burning building after initially fleeing, banging on her neighbors’ doors and trying to rouse them.

The woman and a man who lived with her were both treated for smoke inhalation, Bradley said.

One of the police officers who initially responded also ran into the building, despite having no safety equipment. Finding that one of the two stairwells in the building was engulfed in flames, he ran up the other, which was filled with heavy smoke.

The officer was able to successfully escort several residents on the upper floors to safety, Bradley said.

A neighbor said the officer then ran back into the building, this time with a fire extinguisher, and attempted to fight the blaze himself. The officer and a firefighter were both hospitalized for smoke inhalation and overexertion.

“He’s to be commended,” Bradley said of the officer. “That’s really above and beyond. They’re going in buildings without protection. You hear people yelling for help, police and fire officers would do anything they possibly can without regard for their own personal safety.

Neighbor Jim Rivers, 42, has lived on Tideview Path for 22 years. A self-described “night owl,” he noticed the flicker of flames through his window and ran to help while his wife called 911.

As he approached the building, Rivers saw thick black smoke and heard residents inside screaming for help. He soon found the woman who had jumped from her balcony lying on the ground in agony. Worried that glass from exploding windows might further injure her, Rivers pulled the woman a safe distance from the building.

Rivers said that while the woman was conscious, “she was in quite a bit of pain.”

Rivers called the police officer who twice ran into the building a hero.

“He needs some recommendation,” Rivers said. “He went in there with nothing on... I mean, at 3 in the morning, he had more energy than anybody. You could see his adrenaline kicked in and he just took care of everything.”

The fire was characterized by investigators as an accident and no charges will be filed, Bradley said. Early reports that the fire was caused by a car hitting the building were erroneous, he said.

Twenty-one people were displaced by the fire, which rendered the 12-unit building uninhabitable, Bradley said.

Police officers brought the victims to the town’s emergency response shelter, where the Red Cross is assisting them in finding alternate housing.