EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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July 31, 2013

Homeless, but not helpless

Fire drives 16 people from three families out of Bruce Street house

LAWRENCE — Because she is blind, Jessica Santiago moved into the first-floor apartment at 196 Bruce St. last December so she could get in and out without having to climb a lot of stairs.

Early yesterday morning, Santiago, 27, and her family got out of the same building unharmed, but lost most of their possessions in a three-alarm fire.

“My biggest concern was getting my children out safely. I didn’t care about anything else,” said Santiago. Her children are Janelis Barahona, 9, Isiah Santiago, 7 and Anayalis Santiago, 4.

Santiago lost her eyesight at age 18. Her mother Migdalia Almestica and brother Andy Cotto also live with her and the children.

Santiago and her family were among 16 people from three left homeless in the blaze at the three-story building.

Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said the call came at 2:05 a.m. and it went to three alarms shortly after.

“When the first truck arrived, there was heavy flames coming out of the front windows on the third floor,” Bergeron said.

The blaze may have been caused by an overloaded power strip.

“It appears that the third-floor occupant had a power strip with a small refrigerator, air conditioner and other small appliances and it overloaded,” Bergeron said.

“It was incidental, which is what happens when a room flashes over,” Bergeron said.

Bruce Street is off Jackson Street and bordered by Avon, Trinity and Park streets in the Arlington neighborhood. Homes are close together and firefighters asked residents from adjacent buildings to evacuate as a precaution.

Firefighters did not have any problems with the water pressure as they have had at several recent fires, including one on Park Street.

Bergeron said firefighters used a temporary water main at Park and Bruce streets, which will soon become permanent.

Firefighters from Methuen, Andover, and Lowell helped Lawrence at the scene, while Dracut, North Andover and Salem, N.H. manned stations.

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