The Putnam Examiner

Discarded Cigarette Ash Cause of Fatal Fire That Killed Four in Carmel

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The Carmel Police Department and Putnam County Fire Investigators announced at a press conference on Thursday, June 7 that the cause of the house fire that took the lives of four members of the Sullivan family of Carmel on May 1 was cigarette ash that hours later turned into the inferno that engulfed the entire home.

Carmel Police Chief Michael Johnson announces the cause of the May 1 fatal fire in Carmel at a press conference with Carmel Police and County Fire and Sheriff's investigators


Carmel Police Lt. Brian Karst said that Tommy Sullivan Jr. immediately was forthcoming with the information on the day of the fire that he had been smoking on the front porch of the house sometime between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. the night before. The 9-1-1 call reporting the fire came in just minutes before 2 a.m. the next morning.

Fire Investigators determined that ash from a cigarette slowly had smoldered in the mulch around the home, eventually igniting 12-foot Evergreen trees close to the house and a plastic trellis that was attached to the side of the home.

Carmel Police Chief Michael Johnson said investigators believed the cause of the fire was accidental, that no foul play was involved, and tests conducted by the state fire investigative unit determined that no accelerants were found at the scene of the fire.

Lt. Karst said that police and fire investigators had met with relatives of the Sullivan family on Wednesday night to share the findings of their investigation, who would then pass on the news to Tommy, Jr.

While there were eight internally wired fire alarms in the home, all of which were believed to have battery back-ups, Lt. Karst said that Tommy Jr. said in interviews with investigators that he did not remember hearing the alarms, but that the traumatic circumstances he was in while fleeing the home could have been a factor in that.

Carmel Police Chief Johnson said that in the days after the fatal fire, which took the lives of Thomas Sr., Donna, Meaghan and Mairead Sullivan, Carmel Building and Code Enforcer Michael Carnazza offered the other homeowners in the development in which the Sullivans lived to have their fire alarm systems tested.

On the day of the early morning fire, Carmel Fire Chief Robert Lipton said that the light construction of the home, in which press board was used, could have lent to the fire so quickly engulfing the home.

Capt. Dan Tompkins of the Putnam County Fire Investigators said that while the fire smoldered, recent extremely dry conditions paired with high winds that whipped up later that night, contributed to the fast-moving blaze.

When asked if the light-construction techniques used to build the home may have contributed, he said, “yes,” but noted that the Sullivan home was built in compliance with town code. It also was noted  the vinyl siding of the home was flammable.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, who was a personal friend of the Sullivan family, attended the press conference.

After being asked if she would work to change building codes to deal with concerns about light construction when it came to house fires, County Executive Odell said that the county could only suggest changes but that changing building codes was under the authority of the individual municipality.

“It’s a national issue,” County Executive Odell said of light construction, noting that it is used contemporarily up and down the Eastern seaboard and extending across the country to the West Coast. “When you have a tragedy, what you do with it defines a community. Certainly we need to take this tragedy and make something positive come out of it.”

County Executive Odell said that Tommy Jr. would need the support of his family and the community and his faith to get him through this difficult time.

Chief Johnson also asked that the community keep Tommy Jr. in their thoughts and he asked everyone to have compassion and show support for the 20-year-old young man.


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