022019 WES fire investigation Sacco damage 1

A Valentine's Day fire caused significant damage to a house at 6 Sacco Drive. Police and fire officials said there are unusual circumstances and that the cause is still unknown. The case remains under investigation. Courtesy Dunn's Corners Fire Department

WESTERLY — The cause of a Thursday morning fire along Sacco Drive remains under investigation and officials said late Monday that there were several “unusual circumstances” involved that are making it difficult to determine an exact cause.

Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said police are working with the Rhode Island Office of the State Fire Marshal in order to determine the cause of the fire, which significantly damaged a home at 6 Sacco Dr. He said the home, which is owned by Champion Mortgage, has been vacant since previous tenants were evicted under foreclosure law in May 2018 and that utilities were disconnected as a result of that process.

The house was recently listed for sale.

“The fire appears to have started somewhere in the basement area, but how it started has not been determined,” Lacey said. “There was no electrical service or heating utility in the building. There hasn’t been since July.”

Members of the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department were called to the home around 5:15 a.m. on Valentine’s Day after a neighbor called in to report a possible fire in the woods. They were assisted in the response by members of the Ashaway and Westerly fire departments. The Westerly Ambulance Corps and Providence Canteen each assisted in response as well.

The Watch Hill, Misquamicut and Charlestown fire departments were also placed on standby to help cover stations and meet the needs of other calls.

According to fire officials, arriving units confirmed a structure fire in the home with flames showing. Lacey and fire officials said a neighbor reported that, although the home was supposed to be unoccupied, someone had been staying on the first floor. As a result, a second alarm assignment was made and rapid primary search was conducted in zero-visibility conditions, but no one was located.

Firefighters were then able to quickly contain the blaze and, after combating the fire, conducted a second search that confirmed that no one was in the home. No injuries were reported, police and fire officials said.

Due to the circumstances, Lacey said the fire scene was turned over to police and staff with the fire marshal’s office around 11 a.m. The cause and origin remain under investigation through the fire marshals’ office, with assistance from Special Agent James Hartman of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Lacey warned that Hartman is training alongside state inspectors and indicated that his involvement does not necessarily indicate the fire is an ATF matter.

Hartman said Tuesday that the investigation “remains very much active.” He declined further comment, citing the investigation.

Lacey said police are also still working the case.

“We are looking to have follow-up interviews with witnesses to determine what may have happened. There is a chance that the cause may remain inconclusive, but investigators are doing all that they can,” Lacey said.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

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