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Police identify man who died in fire

April 27, 2011

PAWTUCKET — While police and fire officials continue to investigate the cause of Tuesday's deadly blaze at 681 Broadway, Pawtucket Police have identified the victim as Derrek Ellerbe, age 57.
Just after 5 p.m., members of the Pawtucket Police and Fire Departments responded to the three-story apartment house for a report of a structure fire.
When they arrived, there was heavy smoke coming from the third floor.
According to Police Maj. Arthur Martins, one man, later identified as Ellerbe, was found unresponsive in a third-floor apartment.
He was removed from the house by rescue personnel and transported to the Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death appears to be smoke inhalation, but the results of an autopsy are still pending.
Another male tenant was also transported to a local hospital during the incident after suffering an apparent seizure. Six to eight people who were in the building when the fire started were able to escape, and several were given assistance by the Red Cross.
Police closed Broadway from East Street to Appleton Avenue for over an hour as firefighters fought the heavy smoke and flames. About 150 onlookers watched from the nearby sidewalks.
According to Fire Chief William Sisson, the fire originated in a room in a third-floor rear apartment. Damage was mostly confined to the third floor of the six-unit apartment house, but smoke and water damage rendered the entire structure temporarily uninhabitable. Two firefighters were overcome by the smoke but did not require hospitalization.
Fire Capt. Steven Parent, also the city's Fire Marshal, said that despite a lengthy investigation on Wednesday, the cause of the fire remains undermined. He said electrical causes have primarily been ruled out and there wasn't any evidence of candles. In addition, he said that a trained arson dog that was brought in from the Massachusetts State Police failed to detect any signs of an accelerant.
Parent said that many of the tenants of the house and others who were visiting there were smokers, and that the house typically had a lot of people coming and going, which was making the investigation more difficult. He said it doesn't appear at this time that the fire was intentional, but police and fire investigators are still interviewing some witnesses.
Parent said the six-unit, wood frame house had working smoke detectors, but did not have the hard-wired alarm system that is now required by law for apartment houses of that size. He said that if the new system had been installed, there would have been an earlier warning to the tenants to evacuate.


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