5 people are found dead after home fire in Sheffield
Five people were found dead Wednesday in a fire-ravaged home in the small town of Sheffield in Western Massachusetts, and an investigation is underway, the district attorney’s office said.
The five victims were not identified Wednesday evening in what one official called a “complicated” investigation. It began when a structure fire was reported at 1343 Home Road shortly before 8 a.m. Wednesday, said Dennis Yusko, a spokesman for Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington.
Yusko said the fire department and multiple mutual aid agencies responded and extinguished the flames.
He said a primary search “revealed the presence of a deceased individual. A more extensive search revealed the presence of four other deceased individuals.”
Harrington told reporters at a news conference at Town Hall that an extensive investigation was underway, with multiple local and state agencies participating, including the state fire marshal and State Police detectives.
“It’s a complicated investigation and we will provide you with additional information as soon as we are able to,” Harrington said.
Yusko said the office would not be identifying the victims Wednesday and would not be releasing their causes of death. The cause of the fire is also under investigation.
Photos of the structure that caught fire show a brown, two-story, single-family house with a garage on the first floor and a deck on the second floor. The fire charred a portion of the red roof to a light gray and smoke could be seen coming out of some of the second-floor windows.
Harrington said the blaze was “fully involved” at one point. She said the fire was knocked down by 9:15 a.m. and extinguished about an hour after that.
Sheffield is in the southwestern corner of the state, on the Connecticut border, about 120 miles from Boston as the crow flies and about 20 miles south of Pittsfield. It has a population of about 3,200, according to the 2010 US Census.
Home Road is a thinly populated road that is at one point crossed by the Appalachian Trail.
Fire department crews from Sheffield, Great Barrington, Monterey, Egremont, Richmond, New Marlborough, Canaan, Conn., and Norfolk, Conn., responded to the scene, authorities said. Forensic scientists assigned to the State Police crime laboratory also responded.
A neighbor who lives three houses down from the fire said she was leaving for work Wednesday morning when she saw a Great Barrington firetruck go by, followed a short time later by two police cars.
“We live on a mountain,” said the neighbor, who would identify herself only as Robin during a brief phone interview on Wednesday. “And when we got to the bottom of the mountain, they were putting up a road closed sign so we knew it was serious.”
She said she did not see any flames or smoke.
The frame of the house was intact, but the second floor was “burnt right out,” she said.
“You think you had a bad day at work today and you hear this right up the street and you realize how lucky you are,” she said.
The deaths rocked the local community on Wednesday. In a joint statement, pastors from two Sheffield churches said they were “deeply saddened by this tragedy.”
“We are holding the families and friends of those killed today in our prayers,” read the statement from the Rev. Erik Karas, the rector and pastor of Christian Trinity Church, and the Rev. Jill Graham, the pastor for the First Congregational Church of Sheffield United Church of Christ.
The statement continued, “While all the details are not yet clear, the loss of life is always painful, regardless of the circumstances. We are also holding in our prayers the firefighters, police and EMS personnel who responded to the scene today from all over our area, many of whom are volunteers.”
For emergency personnel, responding to fatal fires “is incredibly difficult and the images of those scenes have an impact that remain for many years,” the pastors said.
“We are making ourselves available to anyone who might need to talk through their experiences from today and everyone will remain in our prayers in the days and weeks to come,” read the statement.