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Norwalk Fire Marshal: Smoking to Blame for Blazes

NORWALK, Conn. – Careless smoking caused two fires in the past week in Norwalk, according to Norwalk Fire Marshal Glenn Iannacone.

The large extent of Sunday's morning's blaze on Oakwood Avenue was because of a propane tank on a deck, he said.

And the woman who died last week after being burned in a Maple Street apartment was smoking in bed while on an oxygen tank, he said.

The Sunday morning fire in the Silver Ridge Townhouses, behind the Merritt 7 office complex, destroyed four apartments and damaged four others in the building, leaving 16 people homeless.

Damage at last Tuesday morning's fire at the Sheffield Ridge Condominium complex, located at 45 Maple St. near Norwalk Hospital, was confined to one apartment. Marjorie Johnson, 92, was seriously injured, and her daughter, Judy O'Brien, 62, died Thursday from her injuries. Iannacone said O'Brien fell asleep in bed, while smoking. Her bedclothes caught fire.

Residents of the Silver Ridge Townhouses suspected their neighbor's smoking started the fire. "My neighbor downstairs, he was, I believe, smoking a cigarette and he fell asleep," said George Lew. "He got out, I think he's in the hospital at the moment."

Lew lost everything. Iannacone confirmed Lew's suspicions.

The man in the apartment below had been smoking in a chair before going to bed. When the smoke detector went off, he returned to the living room to find a blanket and the chair on fire. He went out the slider door and left it open, allowing the fire to come outside, where a 20-pound propane tank was sitting on his deck.

When firefighters arrived, the deck spanning the entire back of the three-story building was engulfed in flames. Iannacone blamed the propane tank for the spread of the fire.

Reports of exploding ammunition were also confirmed. Iannacone said one resident is a professional shooter, and one round went off because of the fire. Police secured the guns, Deputy Fire Chief Edward Prescott said.

Iannacone said one lesson learned from the fire was that people should not have a 20-pound propane tank next to a building. The townhouses themselves are well built, he said. "Considering the situation, the guys did a good job," he said. "The firewalls held; that's why it was confined to one building."

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