Days Before Fatal Fire, Fireworks Brought Mass. Crews to Building

July 12--Fireworks ignited on July 3 inside the Lowell apartment building where seven people perished in a fast-moving inferno early Thursday triggered fire alarms and prompted local firefighters to reset the system, the Herald has learned.

Lowell firefighters responding to the July 3 alarm at the three-story Branch Street building later ruled the fireworks went off in a hallway, an official with knowledge of the investigation said yesterday.

Several witnesses told the Herald they heard what sounded like fireworks coming from the building during the height of the three-alarm fire. Investigators are looking into whether the building's fire alarms were working and if the stash of fireworks played a role in sparking the blaze.

Meanwhile, the company that performed inspections on the building's fire prevention system said it is cooperating with investigators from Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan's office, who are still trying to find out what started the state's deadliest fire in 20 years.

"We have performed inspections on the fire alarms and fire extinguishers," said Chris Woodcock, marketing director for SimplexGrinnell. "We are now in the process of facilitating internal and external reviews of the situation."

Woodcock would not say when the last inspection took place or if the building's alarm system had any problems leading up to the deadly conflagration that killed four adults and three children and left 55 homeless.

Mary Beth Long, spokesman for Ryan's office, said the cause and origin of the blaze has not yet been established and the identities of those killed wouldn't officially be released until autopsies were completed.

Family members have identified six of the seven victims: Torn Sak, Ellen Vuong, 32, and their children, Anthony, 12, Ryan, 9, and Sayuri, 7; and Tina Christakos, 38.

The three-story, mixed-used building housed eight apartments and had a liquor store on the first floor.

A small fire in the store caused by a neon sign last July prompted the fire department to order building owner Sanjay Patel to update the alarm system, records show.

The man who did that work, Brian Catino, said he added two audible alarms to the store and an audible alarm and smoke detector to the basement. All that work, he said, was tested and signed off on by the fire department.

"I can't tell you about the rest of the building but I know when they tested the system the alarms in the basement and the store were working," he told the Herald.

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