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Oily Rags Most Likely Cause of Medford Fire 

MEDFORDMedford Fire Chief John Freedman, Medford Police Chief Jack Buckley, and State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said today that Tuesday morning’s fire on Terrace Road was accidental and most likely caused by the combustion of oily rags that had been used in ongoing renovations.

The origin and cause of the fire were investigated by the Medford Fire Department, Medford Police Department, and State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s office. That joint effort determined that the fire began in the left rear area of the first floor interior, where the contractor had been staining walls during an extensive renovation. Investigators found cans of paint thinner and oil-based stain in this area, consistent with photos, video, and statements provided by witnesses. Damage to the structure was so severe that investigators required heavy equipment and shoring in order to safely process the area of origin.

“The oils in some paints, stains, and varnishes release heat as they dry,” said Chief Freedman. “If rags and applicators are left in a pile, a box, or a trash bag with other debris, this heat can build up and cause them to ignite. Whether you’re a professional or a do-it-yourselfer, always dispose of oily rags safely. Hang dry them individually outdoors or weighted down with a rock. Once they’re dry, place them in a metal container with water and a tight lid. Most communities have a household hazardous waste disposal program where you can drop the container off.”

“Oily rags cause residential fires every single year in Massachusetts, including one that claimed a young person’s life last year,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “These fires can be especially dangerous because they can smolder for hours before anyone is aware of them. If you’re undertaking a home improvement project, please be careful when using paints, stains, and varnishes.”

The fire at 44 Terrace Rd. in Medford was first reported through a 9-1-1 call at about 1:19 a.m. on March 21. Medford firefighters observed heavy smoke and flames on arrival and encountered heavy conditions on all three floors. Second and third alarms were struck in rapid succession, bringing additional Medford companies with mutual aid from Somerville, Malden, Chelsea, and Arlington on the 2nd alarm, and Chelsea Tower and Everett engine to the fire on the 3rd Alarm. Stoneham, Cambridge, and Melrose provided station coverage.

No injuries were reported.