NEW BEDFORD — Authorities have determined the cause of a New Bedford fire last month that claimed the life of an 85-year-old woman.

New Bedford Fire Chief Paul N. Coderre Jr., New Bedford Police Chief Joseph C. Cordeiro, and State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said the cause of the October 22, 2019 fire at 354 Coffin Avenue was accidental. The fire took the life of 85-year old Louise Barboza, who lived in the three-family home. They say she had placed a towel on top of a room gas heater that ignited. At the time the fire started, she was on the telephone with a relative and described what happened.

The New Bedford Fire Department, New Bedford Police Department and State Police assigned to both the Office of the State Fire Marshal and to the Bristol County District Attorney's Office jointly investigated this fire.

"We offer our condolences to the Barboza family who has lost a loved one in such a sad way," Chief Cordeiro said.

Firefighters rescued the woman but she later succumbed to her injuries at Rhode Island Hospital.

State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “Whether it is an electric space heater or an old time room gas heater, it is important to keep anything that can catch fire three feet away from them. This is a tragic example of what can happen when clothes are placed on a space heater to dry.”

The State Fire Marshal's Office says space heater fires are not frequent but are often deadly.

One hundred thirty-six space heater fires were reported to the Office of the State Fire Marshal between 2009 and 2018. While these fires are not frequent, they are deadly. One of every 68 space heater fires causes a fatality.

Between 2009 and 2018, space heater fires caused two civilian deaths, 18 civilian injuries, 26 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $10.5 million. The State Fire Marshal's Office says 16 percent of these fires were caused when combustible materials such as bedding, mattresses and pillows, clothing or furniture were too close to the heater, and another nine percent were caused when rugs, carpets or mats were under or too close to the heater.

For information on space heaters or about how to keep warm safely this winter go to mass.gov/keepwarmkeepsafe.

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