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Woman dead after early morning fire at Arlington elderly housing complex

An overnight fire killed one person at the Chestnut Manor Senior Housing development in Arlington. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

A woman was killed when a fire sparked by an electric baseboard heater broke out early Saturday morning at an Arlington high-rise apartment complex for seniors and disabled residents, fire officials said.

Another woman was hurt in the blaze and taken to an area hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, according to Fire Chief Kevin Kelley.

Arlington firefighters were sent to Chestnut Manor at 54 Medford St. shortly after 4 a.m. Saturday for a report of smoke in an apartment, Kelley said. When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke coming from one of the building’s hallways.

Kelley said crews found a woman unresponsive in her apartment, which was next to the unit where the blaze broke out, and immediately began providing emergency medical assistance to her.

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The woman, whose name was not released pending notification of family, was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Officials said Saturday afternoon that she was over 65 years old.

“On behalf of the Arlington Fire Department, I want to express our deepest condolences to the victim’s loved ones,” said Kelley in a statement. “Her loss is a tragedy for the family and the community.”

Jack Nagle, the executive director of the Arlington housing authority, extended well wishes to the family.

“I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to the family,” he said in an e-mail statement.

Kelley said the building had working smoke alarms as well as sprinklers. Firefighters were able to evacuate residents in the area most affected by the blaze to a community room.

“Without smoke alarms and sprinklers, this morning’s tragedy could have been even worse,” he said.

The blaze originated in the bedroom of a third-floor apartment and was caused by an electric baseboard heater that either malfunctioned or was in close proximity to combustible items, according to a joint statement from Kelley, Arlington Police Chief Juliann Flaherty, State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, and Middlesex County District Attorney Marian T. Ryan.

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Sixteen of the building’s residents were displaced by the fire, the statement said. Nagle said the process of finding new housing for displaced residents was underway.

“Home heating is the second-leading cause of residential fires, and historically they are most common in January,” Ostroskey said in the statement. “It’s important to keep curtains, bedding, clothing, and other items that can burn at least three feet away from a heat source.”

Firefighters were able to knock down the two-alarm blaze “very quickly,” Kelley said, and the early morning’s freezing temperatures did not have a significant impact on efforts to battle the fire, he said.

“Cold is certainly something we have to deal with [but] I wouldn’t say that the elements were much of a factor,” he said.

Apartments on the building’s third floor suffered substantial smoke and water damage while units below sustained light water damage, Kelley said. Sixteen units on the first three floors of the seven-story building were affected by the fire.

Chestnut Manor, which was constructed in 1965 and has 100 one-bedroom units, houses seniors and disabled residents, according to the Arlington Housing Authority’s website.


Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.