A Bethlehem man says his obsessive compulsive disorder led to an out-of-control fire in his city apartment that resulted in an officer rescuing a woman and her three children from flames and smoke, police said.
Joseph Matacavage, who lives on the second floor of 125 E. Third St., reportedly told police he cleans items he has touched with a cigarette lighter, and has used that method for more than 10 years. This, even after previously causing a fire in his apartment where he was burned, police said.
“Matacavage stated that he knew what he was doing was dangerous but could not help himself,” police said in court records.
Matacavage is facing a handful of charges stemming from the Saturday afternoon fire at the apartment building, including arson, reckless burning and causing a catastrophe.
Matacavage was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest after the blaze for treatment of smoke inhalation, and was then arraigned Sunday and sent to Northampton County Prison in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Bethlehem police officer Matthew Steidel was stopped at East Third and Webster streets when he smelled smoke and was told by people on the street there was a fire at 125 E. Third St.
Heavy smoke was coming out of a second-floor apartment, and Matacavage was standing in a common area by the main entrance, police said.
The officer asked Matacavage what started the fire, and he reportedly said, “Me.”
Steidel was told people were possible trapped on the third floor. The officer went to the back of the building and climbed steps to the third floor to find heavy smoke, flames and a woman and her three children, ages 7, 6 and 3, police said.
The officer helped get the family out and to a safe area, police said.
Authorities say the fire started in the living room of Matacavage’s second-floor apartment, moved to the bathroom and then spread to the third floor.
Firefighters found numerous plastic bottles and containers, as well as charred paper and other items in his home. The drop ceiling was completely burned away, police said.
In an interview at the hospital, Matacavage said on Saturday he was using a lighter to “clean” a six-pack of water bottles that were wrapped in plastic.
The plastic was melting and dropping to the floor, where it ignited papers and other discarded items, police said. The fire got bigger, and Matacavage tried to extinguish it with his bare feet, police said.
He also tried to carry some of the burning debris to the bathroom, but this caused other items to ignite, police said.
For 10 minutes Matacavage tried to put out the fire, police said, before calling 911 and yelling “fire” in the hall, police said.
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Sarah Cassi may be reached at [email protected].
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