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Sun Through A Beer Bottle Determined To Be Cause Of 2021 Stoneham Fire

STONEHAM (CBS) -- Fire investigators in Stoneham have determined that sunlight and a beer bottle helped start a house fire on Hersam Street last year.

It started on the second-floor back deck, where there were glass bottles, cigarette butts, and combustible trash items. Initially, investigators thought the discarded cigarette butts were to blame, but it turned out no one had been on the deck in the hours leading up to the fire.

"We had a K-9 come in to make sure there were no accelerants, and we worked to rule out every possible cause we could come up with and narrowed it down to smoking or our rare solar theory," said Stoneham Police Sgt. Dave Thistle, who is a member of the Stoneham Fire Investigation Unit.

Video and photos from the area confirmed no one was on the deck and demonstrated that the deck received about five hours of direct sunlight before the fire, which, investigators said, is enough time for the sun's rays to be focused through the glass bottles and onto combustible items nearby.

According to State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, of about 16,000 structure fires in Massachusetts during an average year, fewer than 10 -- or less than one one-thousandth of one percent – are attributed to sunlight as the heat source.

"It's uncommon but definitely not unheard of," Ostroskey said. "We've seen several fires involving windows, mirrors, and other glass surfaces. This was the first one we can remember involving glass bottles, but there's no question these surfaces can concentrate sunlight into a competent heat source under the right circumstances."

In the end, the fire caused $700,000 in damages to the four-family home.

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