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December 14, 2013

Overloaded outlet blamed for fire in 2-family home

LAWRENCE — Four small appliances, including a microwave and mini-refrigerator, were plugged into an outlet near a chimney causing a fire that destroyed a multi-family home and forced a dozen occupants into the bitter cold, fire officials said yesterday.

The fire broke out accidentally around 2:15 p.m Thursday in a first-floor apartment at 52 Monmouth St. in the city’s Back Bay neighborhood. Once the fire ignited, flames quickly jumped to the upper floors of the 21/2-story building, Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said.

“It was an easy path for the fire to progress,” he explained.

The home will have to be torn down, said Bergeron, who estimated damage at $300,000. Tenants living there lost everything, including their artificial Christmas trees and presents. A pet cat, Itchy, also perished.

Built in 1910, the wood-framed building, split into two apartments, was constructed with a so-called balloon-frame structure. This building style, a dominant one in the city of Lawrence, relies on long studs that run all the way from basement to roof without fire breaks. Once a fire starts, flames and smoke funnel through the walls, enabling a blaze to jet upward.

Bergeron noted with the exception of some newer neighborhoods in South Lawrence, the majority of single-family and multi-family homes in Lawrence are built with balloon construction.

Yesterday morning, Bergeron, a city engineer and a disinterested party met to survey the damage and determine if the house could be saved structurally. They determined “the building needs to come down,” Bergeron said. A city building inspector will write an order to owner Hassan Hussein of North Andover to raze the house. In the interim, provisions will have to be made on the property to keep it safe for neighbors during the winter weather, Bergeron said.

Bergeron said he did not know how many smoke detectors were in the home. However, he said he heard at least one device sounding “that sounded like a smoke detector” after firefighters arrived.

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