A burning cigarette may be to blame for a fatal fire that claimed the life of Donald Alan Sutch Jr. in Harmony Wednesday night.
Jackson Township Police Chief Terry Seilhamer said burn patterns observed in the living room of Sutch Jr.’s rear apartment in the 10-unit building on the 500 block of German Street were consistent with a cigarette left smoldering in the area.
The chief added Sutch Jr., 53, was a known smoker.
“We suspect that’s what it was,” he said.
Seilhamer said a state police fire marshal investigating the blaze would determine official cause of the fire.
The maintenance man for the building, Sutch Jr.’s body was discovered in a bedroom adjoining the living room after firefighters extinguished the flames at about 8:30 p.m.
His father is the owner of the complex, a two-story, white home with a large front porch converted into apartments.
Seilhamer said Sutch Jr.—who was found in bed—likely died of smoke inhalation.
“He had no obvious signs of trauma to his body. The fire had not reached the bedroom,” he said.
The official cause of Sutch’s death is still pending as of Thursday afternoon, according to the Butler County Coroner’s office.
Harmony Fire Chief Neal Nanna said about 20 people were forced to leave the apartment building during Wednesday’s fire. One person was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, he said. A firefighter also was treated at the scene for exhaustion.
Nanna estimated the cost of damage to the building at about $50,000, with most of the smoke and water damage to Sutch Jr.’s first-floor unit. The apartments now are uninhabitable.
The Red Cross is assisting displaced residents at the building in finding shelter.
Firefighters from Cranberry, Zelienople and Evans City also assisted at the scene Wednesday.