Fire inspectors wrapped up the investigation of last night's fire on Paleologos Street this afternoon and said the cause was accidental.
Fire Inspector Chris Dowling said the homeowner was heating up oil on an open flame and left the portable gas burner unattended -- at some point it ignited and set the garage on fire.
Peabody Fire Department engines raced to 48 Paleologos St. just before 6:30 p.m. to find a single-car garage fully engulfed in flames.
The fire was quickly contained to the garage, preventing serious damage to nearby homes, but took about 45 minutes overall to completely extinguish. Firefighters wielded chainsaws in addition to water hoses, as they battled the fire.
No one was hurt, but the garage and a minivan inside it were completely destroyed. Tower 1 and Engine 26, 5 and 7 responded to the scene while police cruisers blocked off the street to traffic.
Deputy Fire Chief Joe Daly said last night that the homeowner appeared to have been cooking inside the garage and left a gas burner on. He could not offer further details at the time, however, because he said there was a "language barrier" and the woman was obviously upset.
Dowling confirmed this afternoon that there was a propane burner inside the garage. He described it as an "open flame burner" you might use outdoors to fry a turkey on.
He said there were also some containers of fuel inside the structure, which was one of the reasons the fire kept flaring up until it was fully extinguished.
"Cooking with an open flame should be done at least 10 feet from a structure," Dowling said, as opposed to inside the garage. That's the standard warning the Fire Department issues, he said, adding that it's more often a concern with residents of multi-family homes leaving grills out on the porch or balcony.
The free-standing garage was located in the corner of the driveway outside the two-story house and the homeowner was home at the time with her children.
Dowling said both that home and neighboring houses suffered heat damage from the flames -- the vinyl siding melted off in some areas due to the heat. The rising smoke could clearly be seen throughout the downtown, in nearby parts of Salem and even over in Lynnfield near I-95.
Officer Antonio Santos, who was the first one at the scene, removed two vehicles from the driveway to allow firefighters access once they arrived. Meanwhile, a large crowd of neighbors gathered out on the street.
A truck from Mallia's Towing arrived around 7:30 p.m. to remove the vehicle from the charred remains of the garage.
Around 9:15 p.m., the four fire engines had cleared the scene, but police were still blocking off Paleologos Street at Tremont Street.
According to city property records, the home is owned by Thay Van Nguyen and Tri Cao Nguyen.