EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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January 23, 2008

Ferocious fire takes out a city block; investigators say cause is suspicious

LAWRENCE — Almost an entire city block was taken out by a suspicious, roaring blaze that started in a nightclub under renovation at the corner of Market and Parker streets about 2:30 this morning.

At least 14 close-knit buildings were ravaged by flames, sending about 200 residents of 26 apartments into the streets in pajamas, bathrobes and wrapped in blankets.

One person was taken to the hospital with unknown injuries, but those injuries were not believed to be serious. Mayor Michael Sullivan said as many as 380 were affected by the fire this morning.

"The quick response, that's what really saved lives," Sullivan said.

Fire Chief Peter Takvorian described it as the biggest fire to hit the city since an explosion torched the 29-acre Malden Mills factory complex in 1995, injuring 27 people.

State Fire Marshal Steven Coan was on scene this morning and said it was too early to say what the cause of the fire may be, but did describe the blaze as "suspicious."

Also on scene were investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Gov. Deval Patrick was expected to tour the site this morning.

Where it started.

Takvorian said the interior of the nightclub, formerly known as Millennium, had been gutted and was just a large open space. The open building at 44 Parker St., coupled with the wind, created a fire storm across the block, Takvorian said.

"It was like a matchstick," said city Building Inspector Gregory Arvanitis.

Geraldo Torres, 45, of Methuen bought the building for about $250,000 and started renovating it about two months ago. He said he planned to put in a restaurant and bar, with either a Mexican or Italian theme. He and his wife Nereida Trempe had been doing much of the work and had already spent about $300,000 on the project.

However, he did not have insurance on the building.

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