Metro

Fire that killed 2 in Boston’s North End was started by cigarette

Residents were getting ready for bed, drifting off in front of the TV, or already sleeping when the fire alarm sounded at 1 a.m. Some initially ignored the wails, because the alarms went off frequently in the five-story brick building in the North End.

But then smoke started to billow up from the second floor, the hallway lights went dark, and someone started yelling, “Get out! Get out!”

Many of them ran outside, some covering their mouths with pajamas, while others, blocked by thick smoke in the hallway, climbed out of their windows and down ladders with the help of firefighters.

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Two men did not make it out safely — and became the first people to be killed by a fire in Boston this year.

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Peter W. Smith, a strapping 33-year-old bond analyst and hockey player originally from South Hamilton, died after he jumped from his fourth-floor window in the back of the building, where the smoke was heaviest, fire officials said.

“The ladders couldn’t get to him and he had to make a decision, and that’s what he did,” said John P. Wilkins, chairman of Wilkins Investment Counsel, a small firm in Boston’s Financial District, where Smith had worked as a senior investment analyst since 2013. “It’s a terrible thing — a young life snapped, taken away.”

Wilkins Investment Counsel
Peter W. Smith

Matthew F. Sabetti was found dead in his second-floor apartment, where officials said the fire was started by a cigarette left in the bedroom. A 59-year-old former Harvard football player, he was fondly recalled for helping to shovel snow in the wintertime, often in shorts and a muscle shirt, no matter the cold.

Residents described a frantic escape from the eight-unit building, which is located at 280-282 Hanover Street and houses Trattoria Il Panino, an Italian restaurant, on the ground floor. By the time firefighters navigated through the North End’s maze of narrow streets, flames were pouring through windows on two floors, and smoke was coming out of the walls.

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Sabetti’s roommate said she woke up to the smell of smoke in her room and asked Sabetti what was happening.

“He said, ‘Help me. Help me put this out,’ ” she told reporters. “I started filling up a pan of water, and it was just useless. It was fruitless. And I said, ‘Matt, we have to go. It is just too big,’ I ran out the door and I thought he was coming behind me, but he must have been staying to put the fire out.”

Out on the street, a neighbor saw the roommate, watching in terror as flames began to roar out of the windows of her apartment.

“ ‘My Matty’s in there! My Matty’s in there!’ ” she was yelling, according to the neighbor, who would only give his first name, Mike.

On the fifth floor, Natalya Shibko, a 42-year-old restaurant manager, was about to fall asleep when she heard smoke alarms go off. She didn’t think much of it at first, because the alarms go off regularly, she said.

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Then she smelled smoke, opened a window, and saw black plumes rising from the apartments below. She checked the peephole in her front door and saw that the hallway, which is usually lit up at night, was pitch black. She ran back to her bedroom and opened a window. There, perched on a ladder, a firefighter was urging her to climb outside. Fearful of the height, she started to cry. But the firefighter told her it was the only way out, and she climbed down to Hanover Street with his help.

11/22/2017 Boston - Ma - Frank DePasquale (cq) the owner of Trattoria Il Panino steps over tape after fire aftermath at 282 Hanover Street in Boston's North End. His restaurant is at 280 Hanover Street which is adjoined to build that was the scene of a tragic fire. Jonathan Wiggs\Globe Staff Reporter:Topic.
Jonathan Wiggs\Globe Staff
Frank DePasquale, the owner of Trattoria Il Panino, at the fire scene.

“I’m not looking forward to doing that again,” she said.

Smoke alarms also woke up Dana Preda in her fourth-floor apartment. “Get up!” she yelled to her husband, Ion. He opened the door to their apartment, which was hot, and smoke rushed inside. It was hard to breath, Dana Preda said, so the couple covered their mouths with pajamas, and firefighters helped them down the stairs and out through the front entrance of the building.

On the second floor, next to Sabetti’s apartment, Navaras Prabaj, 68, said he was watching a movie and drifting off when he smelled smoke. When he opened the door, smoke was pouring through the hallway, he said, and two men were yelling, “Get out!” Prabaj ran to wake his wife and his daughter, 26, and they escaped through the hallway onto the street.

“I was stunned,” Prabaj said, adding that his family left with only the clothes they had on. “We have nothing now.”

Still, he and others said they were grateful to be alive and were grieving for the two who had died.

Smith graduated from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in 2002, completed a post-graduate year at Philips Andover Academy, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 2007, where he played hockey and majored in economics, according to his LinkedIn page.

He followed his father into the bond business and excelled in the trade.

Wilkins said he had last seen Smith at the office on Tuesday. The young man was “on a high,” Wilkins said, as he picked out ties for a trip he had planned to Los Angeles later this week and looked forward to a hockey game Tuesday night.

“We’re all in shock,” Wilkins said. “He was a simply outstanding bond analyst and a great member of the bond community. It is a terrible loss. He was a superior human being, and every life he touched was added to.”

Sabetti graduated from Newton South High School and from Harvard College in 1980, where he majored in economics and was a linebacker on the football team. A 1979 article in the Harvard Crimson describes him beginning his Harvard football career as a 5-foot, 11-inch, 185-pound backup who got knocked around by bigger players.

Frustrated with his size, Sabetti started lifting weights for two hours a day at Mike’s Gym in Porter Square, and, by the time the 1978 season rolled around, Sabetti weighed 210 pounds. In 1979, the Harvard football program gave him the Robert F. Kennedy Award for desire, determination, and willingness to work.

Mike, the North End neighbor, said Sabetti was a Hanover Street fixture, who, despite walking with a slight bend in his back, would shovel snow from the sidewalk — sometimes for money, sometimes for free, but always in shorts and a tank top.

“Even in winter,” Mike said. “That was his trademark.”

According to city and federal records, the building is owned by Federal Investments Inc., a Nahant company whose officers are Gennaro Jay Angiulo and Barbara Lombard.

A man who answered a phone number listed for Federal Investments on Wednesday said, “We have no comment at this time,” and hung up.

According to city Inspectional Services Department records, the building was cited three times for violations in the past five years — the most recent of which was issued Monday. All three citations were for improper trash storage, records show.

Fire officials said the blaze caused about $1.5 million in damage.

Firefighters hauled hoses at the scene of Wednesday’s North End fire.
John Cetrino for The Boston Globe
Firefighters hauled hoses at the scene of Wednesday’s North End fire.

Boston District fire Chief Joseph Casper used his radio on the scene of the North End fire.
John Cetrino for The Boston Globe
Boston District fire Chief Joseph Casper used his radio on the scene of the North End fire.
A Boston police officer cordoned off the scene.
John Cetrino for The Boston Globe
A Boston police officer cordoned off the scene.
The scene on Hanover Street early Wednesday.
John Cetrino for The Boston Globe
The scene on Hanover Street early Wednesday.

John R. Ellement, Matt Rocheleau, Kathy McCabe, Danny MacDonald, and Felicia Gans of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.