By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — Nearly two dozen people had to be evacuated from a garden-style condo complex late last night when a fire erupted in the bedroom of a basement unit at 8 Crescent Drive.
Andover Fire Deputy Kevin Connors said one person was rescued from a third-floor balcony and another had to be carried out of a second-floor apartment when thick smoke filled the building at around 11:30 p.m. Nobody was injured in the blaze.
He said four or five 911 calls came into the Department at approximately 11:40 p.m.
When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke pouring from the building and flames in a basement unit bedroom.
At first, firefighters fought the fire from the exterior of the 12-unit building while simultaneously doing a search and rescue operation of people inside the building.
"Once we got into the room we knocked it down quickly," he said. "Then it's just making sure it's ventilated. But there was also a search and rescue going on because we had confirmed reports of people in the building. We had our hands full. It was a tremendous effort by all hands involved."
All residents were accounted for and there were no reported injuries, Connors said.
The fire is under investigation by state fire inspectors and the cause is not known at this time, he said. Several people at the scene this morning said they thought one of the residents in the basement condominium had been carelessly disposed of a cigarette.
Property manager George 'Lee' Giurgio said 21 people lived in the building, including several children. He was escorting residents back into the building this morning but couldn't let anyone stay inside.
"People can get in to get their stuff, but they cannot move in for now," he said. "I need the Building Inspector to give me the OK."
He said the whole interior smells like smoke.
Connors said this morning that the building was is uninhabitable.
Red Cross workers arrived on scene amid reports that 10 people from 11 units needed assistance. Only one of the units was vacant, according to Dep. Connors.
The Red Cross ended up assisting three families by putting them up in a local hotel. Red Cross also provided emergency funds for food to those residents, according to Kat Powers, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.
She said most of the rest of the people in the building, who either own or lease the condos, are staying with family in the area.
Connors said while the fire was confined to the bedroom there was a lot of smoke and fire damage in the apartment where the fire started, as well as smoke damage throughout the building.
He said one woman was rescued from a third-floor balcony by a firefighter who brought her down to safety using a ground-ladder. Another resident of the complex was rescued from a second-floor apartment. He said heavy smoke filled the stairwells.
The one-alarm blaze was fought by nearly the entire Fire Department. Mutual aid was needed to cover the central and outlying stations from the North Andover, Lawrence and Tewksbury fire departments.
"It was all-hands on deck," Connors said. "They confined the fire to the area of origin. It was a tremendous effort. They extinguished the fire and rescued residents of the building."
The fire was under control by 12:11 a.m., although firefighters remained on scene for most of the rest of the morning, until around 4 a.m.
Also responding to the fire were utility companies National Grid and Columbia Gas.