fb-pixel Skip to main content

Oily rags likely caused fire at Senator Warren’s son’s house in Medford, state fire marshal says

Oily rags likely sparked a fire that caused major damage to a vacant Medford home owned by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s son earlier this week, officials said Thursday.

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey’s office said the fire was accidental and was “most likely caused by the combustion of oily rags that had been used in ongoing renovations.”

The fire broke out early Tuesday morning at 44 Terrace Road, where firefighters responded to a 911 call at 1:19 a.m. and found heavy smoke and flames on all three levels of the two-and-a-half story home, Ostroskey’s office said.

The house was under renovation and vacant at the time of the fire, officials said. No injuries were reported.


Investigators with the Medford fire and police departments, as well as State Police and the fire marshal’s office, determined that the fire started in the left rear area of the first floor, where a contractor had been staining walls, Ostroskey’s office said.

Investigators found cans of paint-thinner and oil-based stain in that area, “consistent with photos, video, and statements provided by witnesses,” the statement said.

Damage to the home was so severe that investigators “required heavy equipment and shoring in order to safely process the area of origin,” Ostroskey’s office said.

Medford Fire Chief John Freedman said the oils in some paints, stains, and varnishes release heat as they dry and warned people not to leave rags and applicators in a pile, box, or trash bag with other debris.

“This heat can build up and cause them to ignite,” Freedman said in the statement. “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 spark fires in Massachusetts every year, Ostroskey said, including a fire last year in Agawam where a teenager was killed.

“These fires can be especially dangerous because they can smolder for hours before anyone is aware of them,” Ostroskey said in the statement. “If you’re undertaking a home improvement project, please be careful when using paints, stains, and varnishes.”

In a statement the day the fire broke out, Warren thanked firefighters and said she was “grateful that everyone is safe.”

Her son, Alexander Warren, declined to speak with reporters when he stopped by the house early Tuesday afternoon.

The five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom home was assessed at $1,332,000 this year, according to town records.

Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.