Lightning strike may have caused fire in Stoughton senior complex

Lightning strike believed to have sparked 3-alarm fire in Stoughton senior housing

STOUGHTON, Mass. — Firefighters believe lightning is to blame for a fire at a senior apartment complex in Stoughton early Thursday morning that was smoldering, undetected, for hours before a passerby saw flames and alerted firefighters.

The fire in the cupola of the Stoughton Housing Authority-owned building at 4 Capen St. was noticed at around 4:30 a.m., fire officials said, and forced evacuations of about 67 residents in the building known as Rose Forte Apartments. Fire officials said there are no fire alarms in that part of the building to alert residents to the fire. There are also no sprinklers in the building because it was built before they were required, officials said.

But a plan for adding the safety feature, which may have doused the flames, was in the works, according to fire officials. The state and housing authority had recently approved a plan to retrofit the building with sprinklers, but it was still in the design phase, they said.

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Firefighters said if a person walking by the building hadn't alerted them, the outcome could've been much worse.

Stoughton Fire Chief Michael Laracy said there were concerns about the lack of sprinklers and the possibility of a fire in the complex that's home to mostly seniors and people with disabilities. "This was our worst fear... .fire in this building, with the evacuation, the residents, most of them unable to get out themselves, and for the most part, it went as best it could."

The fire eventually grew to 3-alarms, but all the residents were safely evacuated.

The damage affected about four apartments, just below the cupola, but the majority of residents should be able to return to their homes, according to fire officials.

It's believed that a lightning strike during Wednesday night's severe thunderstorms in the area hit the cupola, and ignited a fire that continued burning until someone just happened to spot it and alert the firefighters at the station just blocks away.