Salamanca police: Seneca Street fire caused by woman falling asleep while smoking

25 Seneca St. is left damaged Monday after a fire Saturday night. Salamanca police said the fire was caused by a resident falling asleep while smoking a cigarette.

SALAMANCA — This past weekend’s blaze at a Seneca Street apartment is believed to have been caused by a resident falling asleep while smoking a cigarette.

While multiple scanner reports indicated an “arson investigator” was called to the scene at 25 Seneca St. Saturday night, Salamanca Police Chief Troy Westfall told the Olean Times Herald Monday the fire has been ruled an accident caused by a female tenant smoking in the rear, upper apartment.

Westfall said a Salamanca Fire Department chief interviewed a female who stated she had fallen asleep smoking a cigarette and awoke to find her bed on fire. Neither she nor anyone else in the apartment building was injured.

“It’s considered to be an accident,” said Westfall, adding, “I still can’t believe people smoke in bed. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

More than 18,000 house fires a year are caused by smoking materials, which is 5% of all house fires, according to a recent report by the National Fire Protection Association. A mattress or bedding is the first item to catch on fire in 10% of those smoking-related house fires, the report said.

Blazes where a mattress or bedding catches fire first can be deadly, too. Such fires account for 170 deaths, or 29% of all smoking-related house fire deaths a year, according to the NFPA report, which examined data from 2012 to 2016.

Westfall said his department did not have the identities of the female who fell asleep smoking, nor any of the other tenants. Salamanca Fire Chief Nick Bocharski could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Westfall said the female who fell asleep is unlikely to face any criminal charges.

People who accidentally cause fires with cigarettes are rarely prosecuted in the U.S. For example, no charges were filed last year against a Colorado woman who dropped a cigarette into a mulch pot outside her townhome, igniting 20 units on fire.

“There has to be some sort of intent to do damage,” Westfall said. “I think the fire department is pretty much convinced it’s an accident.”

Westfall said he believed the fire damage was contained to the bedroom where the blaze started but noted the home likely has water damage throughout.

The two-story apartment is owned by Jeffrey Earley of Salamanca, according to Cattaraugus County property records.

While emergency scanner reports indicated people were possibly entrapped in the structure, police and fire officials have said everyone had evacuated the building prior to firefighters’ arrival.

“I think they were a little bit worried in the beginning if everybody was out because when you first get to a fire you don’t know,” Westfall said. “Whatever happens that’s the first question: Is everybody alright?”

(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at tdinki@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)