Mike LaBella, Bill Cantwell and Rosemary Ford
---- — HAVERHILL — A woman with a child in her arms jumped from the second floor of the burning Forest Acres apartment building today, officials said.
She is in serious condition in a local hospital, officials said. There was no information available about the condition of the child. Their names were not immediately available.
Police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said the woman jumped from a balcony outside a second-story apartment in the rear of the burning building. He said that when police and firefighters arrived at the fire scene, they were directed to the woman by onlookers. The rescue workers carried the victims to an ambulance to be taken to a hospital, Thompson said.
News of the woman and child spread as the building fire was under control about 2:30 p.m. But then a series of windblown brush fires across several acres broke out nearby, forcing firefighters to scramble.
"This thing is getting out of control quickly,'' a firefighter said over the department scanner just before 3 p.m. today. "We need someone up here quickly.''
Fire officials said it appeared the brush fires dotted as many as seven acres. Firefighters were having trouble reaching the fires from the Forest Acres apartments property, so were trying to enter the brush land from near Cedardale Athletic Club. Police used ATVs to bring water to firefighters battling the brush fires.
According to reports on the Fire Department scanner, the brush fires stopped at a brook near Cedardale, but then began spreading to either side of the brook. The fires then began spreading back toward the Forest Acres apartments.
Even though the building fire was under control, heavy smoke continued to pour out of it. Almost half of the upper part of the building was gutted and the roof had collapsed. Fire officials said a fire wall between two connected apartment buildings, plus aggressive work by firefighters, kept flames from spreading from the burning structure to the adjacent one.
State police have been called in to investigate the cause of the fire. Red Cross workers were on the scene to find temporary housing for victims and provide other help.
After the woman holding the baby jumped, all other tenants of the Forest Acres apartment building managed to get out safely and told a frightening tale of their homes going up in flames.
Amanda Feind, who lives in the building with her boyfriend and infant son, said they smelled smoke just after 1 p.m. today while the baby was napping. She said from her third-floor window she saw a man pull up in a car and yell toward the building, "Everybody get out.'' He was a Fire Department official.
Feind grabbed her baby and she and her boyfriend knocked on doors of other apartments. About 10 people ran out of the building and gathered in a crowd outside, she said. She said a disabled man who uses an oxygen tank and lives in the apartment below hers was helped from the building by Trinity EMS ambulance company workers.
"I think everybody got out safely,'' Fiend said, as she watched firefighters from two ladder trucks pour water on the roof and walls of the building in an effort to keep flames from spreading. She said her three cats were still in her apartment.
By 2 p.m., the flames had ripped through so much of the upper floor of the building that the walls were gone and all that remained were the beams and roof.
There are about 20 apartments in the building, known as Building K, which is part of the larger Forest Acres complex off Route 125 in the Bradford section of Haverhill, less than a mile from the North Andover line.
The Forest Acres buildings are all three stories and covered on the outside with cedar shingles and wood framed roofs. Each building has six to eight apartment units.
The burning building is on the road across from the strip mall just to the right of Academy Lanes plaza.
Firefighters from several area communities responded to the blaze.
The Lawrence Fire Department was sending mutal aid to Haverhill. Ladder trucks were being sent to the scene from the Georgetown Fire Department and Salem, N.H. Firefighters from Haverhill's Rocks Village volunteer station were being called in as well. The Merrimac department sent a pumper truck and Amesbury firefighters also responded.
Several firefighters from those communities were sent to cover Haverhill fire stations.
Callers to the paper reported heavy smoke which could be seen miles away in other communities.
More coming as the story develops.