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Arson unlikely in Plymouth house fire

Plymouth-12/28/2012 A member of the State Fire Marshall's office investigated the remains of a house that burned in an early Friday morning fire. The house was not occupied at the time and is being investigated as possible arson. Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki (metro)

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

An investigator with the state fire marshal’s office at the scene this morning

PLYMOUTH — A fire that destroyed an empty cottage early Friday and that initially drew scrutiny because of a possible link to a series of South Shore arsons was probably sparked by an electrical problem, authorities said.

The blaze began in the wee hours of the morning at 116 Seaview Drive in Manomet, a seaside community in Plymouth.

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The house, a one-story structure across the street from oceanfront property, was gutted by the flames, according to Plymouth Deputy Fire Chief Michael Young. Although the house is occupied year-round, Young said, the residents were away for the holidays and no one was injured.

Concerns were raised about the fire because of similarities with a spate of arsons in recent months targeting empty homes and abandoned structures in communities from Quincy to Sandwich.

After a fire earlier this month in Raynham, authorities around the state vowed to intensify efforts to catch the suspected arsonist.

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But the Plymouth blaze, officials say, appears to have been started by an electrical problem.

“There is no evidence to suggest this was an intentionally set fire,” State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said in a statement. Coan said the fire began next to a couch in the living room.

“Reconstruction of the scene points to an electrical cause of the fire,” he said, But, he said, since all of the electrical components had been destroyed, the cause will officially be categorized as “undetermined.”

“Every fire is a tragedy, but it always feels worse around the holidays,” said Plymouth Fire Chief Edward Bradley in the statement.

Plymouth assessor records show the house is a shingled four-room ranch built in 1955 on about an eighth of an acre. Preliminary estimates put the cost of damage at about $250,000, Young said.

One neighboring home had minor damage from radiant heat, he said. Officials have been in contact with the owner of the gutted house.

Young said he could not recall another fire in the neighborhood in recent years. “There’s nothing that would suggest a pattern,” he said.

A neighbor walking a dog noticed the fire and called the department at 2:49 a.m. Although firefighters, who arrived in four trucks, were able to control the blaze within 30 minutes, Young said, it was not completely extinguished for three hours.

By daybreak, most of the interior of the light gray clapboard cottage was charred, save for a red brick chimney that still stood intact. A tall, neat stack of firewood rested in front of the house.

Many of the home’s decorations were still visible after the blaze: a ship’s wheel nailed to the side of the home, seashell decorations pinned to some of the white shutters, and a painted sign with a lighthouse that said, “Welcome friends.”

Throughout the day, passersby paused to look at the burnt remainder of the cottage and take photographs on their cellphones.

Neighbors said they were saddened by the loss of the house — one of the few on the street that had stayed largely the same for decades — but were not worried that the same tragedy could befall their homes.

“I don’t really think it will happen around here again,” said Joyce Farnkoff, a neighbor who was lived on Seaview Drive for 20 years. “We’re not concerned.”

Ted Calianos, whose family has owned the house across the street for most of his life, remembered the gutted home from the time he was a little boy.

“It’s just lucky that no one was in the house at the time,” Calianos said.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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