METHUEN — A late afternoon fire broke out on the second floor of a 21/2 -story house at 221 Merrimack St. yesterday and raged for more than hour, forcing three families to find temporary shelter last night.
Methuen Deputy Fire Chief Dennis Fragala estimated the two-alarm fire caused more than $200,000 damage to the building.
"We were fighting it for a good hour and a half," Fragala said.
"It was a beast. It was roaring inside for a quite a while. We were lucky to contain it to the building — very lucky. If it broke out of the house, we would have had some serious issues. We would have had to go to third or fourth alarm," he said.
With the windy conditions yesterday, the fire could have easily spread through the neighborhood and threatened other houses, according to Fragala.
Arson investigators were called to the scene after firefighters got the blaze under control. Cause of the fire remained under investigation.
Gina Gueli, the building's owner, said one family, who lived on the first floor, was home when the fire broke out. Two other families, who lived separately on the second and third floors, were not home.
Luis Veslasquez, 28, lived on the second floor with his wife and young daughter. He said they were at work when the fire started and he believed the residents on the third floor also were at work.
"We lost everything," he said.
They have family to stay with, he said, though they live an hour away.
Firefighters responded to the call at about 4:30 p.m. Police blocked off Merrimack Street near the fire and redirected traffic from both directions while firefighters broke out windows on the upper floors. National Grid personnel were on hand and cut wiring leading to the building.
The Salem Fire Department came to the scene under a mutual aid agreement. Lawrence firefighters covered the city's central fire station.
Deputy Fragala credited "good luck" and "great timing" with containing fire and saving its structure.
"Thanks for the powers that be for putting two trucks into service, which had been out for months," Fragala said.
"The weather conditions around here have been atrocious for fires. The wind was a huge factor. It blew right through the building.," he said.
But with the rescue truck carrying the compressed air tanks and engine six out of the North End Fire Station back in service, firefighters were able to knock down the pesky fire and keep it from spreading
The eight residents left homeless by the fire included two children under age five, according to Kat Powers, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts.
"One of the families will be put up in a hotel and two of the families prefer to stay with friends this evening. Everyone was given emergency funds for food and clothing," Powers said.