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


Almestica said she had returned from a friend’s house a few hours before the fire and was still awake when the fire broke out.

“I looked out the window and saw a woman running and yelling, ‘fire’ ‘fire,’ “ she said. Without hesitation, she said she took her grandchildren shirtless and without shoes out of the building. This is not the first time Almestica’s family had been in a fire. In 1989, they were victims of a fire on Water Street in which they lost all of their furniture.

Early this morning Almestica used $15 she won on a Lottery scratch ticket to purchase snacks for her family.

The American Red Cross was at the scene and provided Sponge Bob and penguin blankets and Mickey Mouse dolls for the children, snack and beverages. Victims also received gift certificates for food, clothing and a portable crib, said Ashley Studley, communications manager for the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts.

The Red Cross put up 16 people from three families on each floor of the house in a local hotel temporarily, she said.

“I’m depressed,” said Sylvia Gonzalez, who lived on the second floor apartment with her brother, Felipe Lasanta and children, Miguel Vargas, 22, Jose Vargas, 21, Francisco Martinez, 18, Gloria Martinez, 14 and 2-year-old grandson Jaymean Rosado.

Gonzalez was watching television when she smelled smoke. She walked through her apartment looking for the source and it wasn’t until she got to the living room and looked up that she saw the flames shooting up.

“I thought I was dreaming. I thought, ‘It must be a nightmare. This can’t be happening,” said Gonzalez who has lived at that address for four years.

She grabbed her grandson, dressed him and joined her neighbors outside as they watched their home and possessions go up in flames.

Gonzalez’ furniture, clothing and televisions were all water logged.

“Material things don’t mean anything, at least we did not any tragedies,” she said.

In addition to help from the Red Cross, the victims received store gift cards from Heal Lawrence, led by Mt. Vernon Neighborhood Association president Wayne Hayes and Lawrence Firefighter Juan “Manny” Gonzalez. The group has helped several fire victims over the past year.

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