LAWRENCE — Kyle Gerena said he was barely out of the shower yesterday afternoon when he heard neighbors screaming frantically from outside of his first floor home at 52 Monmouth St., in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood.
Seconds later, he found out his home was on fire and soon bolted for the second floor porch, only partially dressed, to make sure his upstairs neighbors had gotten out of their apartment where flames were devouring the second and third floors.
“Some guy gave me some shoes because I was barefoot,” Gerena, 20, said last night, as he stood shivering and bundled up in a fleece blanket near the Red Cross van. “I was shirtless too, and another neighbor gave me a sweater to wear. All I got right now is what’s on me.”
The fire broke out at about 2 p.m. yesterday in the 2 1/2-story, wooden-framed house at the corner of Monmouth and Buswell streets. Within 15 minutes, the Fire Department sounded a third alarm, drawing mutual aid from Lowell, Methuen and North Andover.
It took about an hour for firefighters to get the fire under control. Twelve people in two families — seven on the first floor and five on the second floor — were left homeless by the blaze. Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said the building was gutted, probably beyond repair, and estimated the fire damage and loss of personal items was “at least $300,000.” Both families also lost their artificial Christmas trees and many of their Christmas presents.
Bergeron said he was relieved that early reports of tenants being trapped inside the building turned out to be false.
The chief said a major challenge to fighting the fire in the century-old home, was its balloon-frame structure that made the blaze a hard one to knock down. “Balloon construction” is a common building technique in houses that age. Long studs run all the way from the basement to the roof without fire breaks, funneling fire and smoke through the walls, enabling flames to move quickly from floor to floor.