By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — A week after fire ripped through a 196 Bruce St. apartment house, 16 tenants from three families are still looking for housing locally.
The families affected need Section 8 rentals in the city, said Wayne Hayes, co-founder of the non-profit group Heal Lawrence, which is working to connect the families with qualified landlords.
Ideally, Hayes said Heal Lawrence wants to develop a data bank of local landlords they can draw upon to help victims of fires and other calamities.
“A lot of people go with family and friends after a fire. But the ones that can’t, we just want to be able to help them out,” Hayes said.
Three apartments that house up to six persons each are now needed, Hayes said.
Hayes said the tenants visited various social services agencies looking for help relocating. So far, their search has yielded nothing but dead ends, he said.
Early last Tuesday morning, the residents were forced from their home after a three-alarm blaze broke out. All the tenants, which included a blind woman and numerous children, made it out of the house unharmed but lost most of their possessions.
The fire was reported at 2:05 a.m. and went to three alarms shortly after.
Fire investigators believe the blaze was sparking by an overloaded power strip on the third-floor. Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said a small refrigerator, air conditioner and other small appliances were plugged into the power strip.
“That’s not good,” Bergeron said.
Bruce Street is off Jackson Street and bordered by Avon, Trinity and Park streets in the Arlington neighborhood. Firefighters also evacuated nearby homes as the area is congested and buildings are very close together.
Lawrence firefighters along with crews from Methuen, Andover and Lowell battled the blaze. Firefighters from Dracut, North Andover and Salem, N.H. manned city stations.
Since the fire on July 30, the tenants have stayed in local hotels courtesy of the American Red Cross. Heal Lawrence also received donations from people who wished to remain anonymous to extend the families’ hotel stays, Hayes said.
“There were a half dozen people that said right off the bat, ‘I’d like to help,’” Hayes said.
The group also collects gift card donations that volunteers can distribute to victims after fires. Heal Lawrence gave the Bruce Street victims gift cards after the fire so they could immediately replace personal care items and clothing, Hayes said.
Those interested helping the fire victims or making a donation can email Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.