Investigations Of Fatal Fires In West Haven, Fairfield Continue

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The scenes of fatal fires in West Haven, left, and Fairfield, right. (FOX CT)

Probes of fires that killed five people in two families last week continue, with electrical engineers joining experts to determine the cause of a triple fatal fire in West Haven and a planned analysis of evidence from a double-fatal fire in Fairfield.

Both fires are believed to have started by accident in the homes’ living rooms, fire officials from both the city of West Haven and the town of Fairfield said. The fires are not connected.

In West Haven, a smoky fire in Unit 214 of Building 2 at Mallard Brook Crossing condominiums in West Haven March 11 killed a mother, Lori Russell; a father, Michael Paone and their adult daughter, Michele Paone.

The day before, a fire raged on Crane Street in Fairfield, killing Maureen Gerrity and her disabled daughter, Katherine O’Neill.

Both fires started in the early-morning darkness; four of the five victims were in bed. All five died of smoke inhalation, a spokeswoman from the state medical examiner’s office said last week.

Investigators in West Haven are trying to determine whether there were working smoke detectors in the condo, said West Haven Fire Chief James O’Brien. Neighbors said they didn’t hear any alarm sounding.

Fairfield firefighters found a smoke detector in the basement of the house in their town, but none on the upper floors. They found carbon monoxide detectors on the first and second floors.

On Monday, electrical engineers joined forensic experts at the West Haven condo to continue examining the scene, O’Brien said. Their presence at such scenes is common during such fires and shouldn’t be taken as a signal that the fire was electrical in nature, he said.

“It’s part of the process,” O’Brien said.

The lead investigator of the Fairfield fire is waiting for lab results to officially announce a cause of that fire, said Christopher Tracy, an assistant fire chief. The results of the blood tests might take 6-8 weeks, he said.

“He’s very thorough,” he said of Fire Marshal William Kessler.

By Christine Dempsey, Hartford Courant

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