WOONSOCKET – Oil-soaked rags left behind by a painter have been blamed for causing an overnight fire Wednesday that gutted a medical office building on Mendon Road.
“The investigation is complete and it’s being ruled accidental,” said Woonsocket Fire Capt. Michael A. Morin, assistant deputy state fire marshal. “Oil-soaked rags are a spontaneous combustion hazard because, as the oil oxidizes, heat is released. If the heat is not dissipated, it can build up and ignite the rags.”
The fire at 385 Mendon Road broke through the roof after apparently starting near a central stairwell on the second floor of the brick, two-story building, said Morin.
An employee for the painting contractor working in the building had left the oily rags in a cardboard box on the second floor, according to Morin. The worker had been using them to stain woodwork and doors in the building, which was undergoing renovations. The fire in the box burned so hot it actually ate a hole in the floor beneath it and quickly spread through the open stairwell, said Morin.
A passing motorist reported the fire about 12:30 a.m.
“When we arrived the fire was blowing out the front door and through the roof,” said Morin.
Members of the Woonsocket Fire Department had the blaze under control in about 45 minutes, he said.
At one point Wednesday morning, the fire department brought in an accelerant-sniffing dog from the Central Coventry Fire Department, allowing investigators to rule out arson.
The building is owned by optometrist Jeffrey Kenyon, who was in the process of renovating it so he could relocate his practice there.
As he grimly surveyed the damage from the parking lot, Kenyon estimated the losses to be about $200,000, though he was still waiting for an official figure from his insurance company.
Despite the setback, Kenyon said he still intends to complete the renovations; he’ll just have to start all over again from scratch.
“You have to look on the bright side,” he said. “It’s important no one was injured. We’re going to get where we’re going. It’s just going to take a little longer.”
No one was in the building when firefighters arrived and there were no signs of forced entry. Kenyon said workers may have been in the building as late as Tuesday afternoon, but probably no later than that.
Kenyon, who currently practices from an office at 68 Cumberland St., said Dr. Michael E. Spizzirri, a gynecologist, had been temporarily leasing about half the building while the renovations were underway.
Kenyon said he has owned the building for about three months. It was built in 1971 by four doctors who used it for professional offices, but most recently it had housed “That Face,” a day spa and wellness center.