Mary E. Pawlukiewicz, who died last night in a fire at 132 State St., was warned just this past Sunday by fire officials about the dangers of smoking around her oxygen tanks.
That small fire Sunday was the second, and possibly, third smoking-related fire connected to the 57-year-old Pawlukiewicz.
In the summer of 2009, in the parking lot of Walmart, a car reportedly occupied by Pawlukiewicz caught fire and was destroyed. She sustained minor burns in that fire. Smoking and oxygen tanks were reportedly to blame for that blaze.
In 2002, there was a fire at 132 State St., but it hasn't been determined with certainty yet that Pawlukiewicz was living at the residence at the time.
There are currently no regulations requiring no smoking by patients using oxygen tanks.
At least one of Pawlukiewicz's tanks exploded last night.
As for the fire Sunday, Det. Rich Schuaf said at a press conference this morning that when the Fire Department arrived, the oxygen unit had been disabled, but its alarm was sounding and a tube had been disconnected.
"She reported that there was a fire, but it was out by the time the fire department got there," Schauff said.
Last night's fire could have been much worse, according to Schauff. A woman, Melissa Ricigliano, and her three children were just leaving at 5:45 p.m. to visit a neighbor. That was an unusual time for them to leave, Ricigliano reportedly told police. Normally, they wouldn't leave until 6 p.m., in which case her and her children would have been in their apartment not yet in a position to evacuate quickly.
Last night, as soon as Ricigliano opened her door, an alarm sounded and there was an explosion. She was able to quickly get her children, all under age 6, out of the building.
"She felt quite fortunate that her plans changed and she left early that day," Schauf said.
There was an attempt made to rescue Pawlukiewicz. Officer Chris Camp as well as witnesses tried to gain entry to the burning building, but the heat and flames were too intense.
Camp tried to enter through the front door and from a south side window, but couldn't get access.
"He was told there was a good chance that she was (still inside)," Schauf said. "The neighbor had a strong feeling she was there. She wasn't positive. She hadn't seen her that day, but she felt she should be in there. She was persistent that there was a good chance she was in there."
City officials are inspecting the building today to determine whether the other two families living there will be able to re-enter the building any time soon to either recover property or move back in.
Currently, they are receiving assistance from the American Red Cross.
Picture: Det. Rich Schauf, left, and Capt. Patrick O'Donnell, at this morning's press conference.