Skip to main content

Officials: State Street fire victim involved in previous smoking-related fires

By Howard B. Owens

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.

Doug Yeomans

Julie, I know it's inappropriate but I can't help making the same comment. I remember her almost toasting herself in her car at Wal Mart last year. Her lungs are already so shot that she needed oxygen and she still smoked. I'm so crude for doing so but I might just submit her to the darwin awards site for consideration. I mean, c'mon, if she hadn't learned that oxygen supports rapid combustion by setting herself on fire in her car, she deserves the nomination. I'm so going to hell but I just can't help myself.

After saying all that, my condolences go out to her family and especially to the firemen who had to dig her body out of the rubble. The firemen have a thankless job but I salute them for what they do. My neighbor Tom Douglas, is in the photo holding onto a family member's jacket. I don't envy his position of having to explain to the family what happened.

Feb 10, 2010, 2:32pm Permalink
Jesse Conklin

"There are currently no regulations requiring no smoking by patients using oxygen tanks."

Do we really need more regulation, in response to a situation that obviously wouldn't have changed had there *been* a law? Some things should just be self evident.

Feb 10, 2010, 4:55pm Permalink
Dave Olsen

My condolences to her family and friends. My thoughts and prayers are also, like Doug's with the firefighters, police and bystanders who tried to rescue her, it's tough to deal with, don't beat yourselves up, we're all sure you tried your best. Thank God the others are safe.

Feb 10, 2010, 5:20pm Permalink
Lauren Picarro-Hoerbelt

There is more than one victim here. Thank God the others are safe, but they are not getting enough of the assistance they need. Their belongings may have been spared, but they need clothes and food, which they did not immediately get from the Red Cross. THANK YOU to the Care-a-Van for coming to the site today, and providing care for the other two families. 4 children and 3 adults are homeless, and many of the area children are shaken having seen and heard the explosions and the fire. Thank God they are safe, but their needs are great and their means are small.

Feb 10, 2010, 6:33pm Permalink
Karen Miconi

My prayers are with Mary's family and the others in the house. What a scary thing to happen, especially with the other apartments so close. Im thankful that knowone else was hurt. I hope they are successfully relocated.
My thoughts are also with Charlie Pero ( kind man, friend, and Marys landlord). What an aweful thing to happen to him, not only loosing a tenant, and Im sure, knowing Charlie, a friend, so tragically, in a home he owned, but also, the big hit finacially, having to rebuild.

Feb 10, 2010, 7:33pm Permalink
bud prevost

A law is not neccessary. The huge, bright tags warning how dangerous smoking around oxygen is should be sufficient. I feel bad for this woman's family, as I'm sure they chastised her for her actions. I will say, this tragedy will not occur with my own mother. She is also oxygen dependent, and she still tries to sneak a cig here and there. After I pointed out how dangerous this is, and how selfish to put her neighbors in harm's way, she promised to not smoke again.
Mary, RIP, and know that at least one person woke up after your horrible passing.

Feb 11, 2010, 9:08am Permalink

Authentically Local