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Merrimack Valley

January 25, 2013

Fire and ice as century-old building burns in sub-freezing temperatures

Century-old building burns in sub-freezing temps

LAWRENCE — The wind and chilling cold temperatures in the mid teens teamed up to cover firefighters with a freezing mist early last night, hampering their efforts to battle a four-alarm blaze that caused extensive damage to a three-story brick building at 125 S. Broadway.

“We’re holding mutual aid companies for now, until we get our apparatus thawed out and the guys thawed out too,” Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said in an interview last night after city units had returned to the Central Fire Station.

“The cold weather and the wind made it very difficult to work out there tonight. It was very smoky and the wind kept all that smoke at ground level — and the mist, from all that water that we were applying. We all got covered with ice,” Bergeron said.

A stiff easterly 15 mph wind made the mid-teen temperatures feel even colder and blew a heavy mist back on firefighters, who were pouring about 2,000 gallons a minute from four hoses, including one from the elbowed arm of a snorkel truck about 15 feet above the building.

The mist froze as it hit South Broadway, creating a sheen of ice. Fighting the cold as well as the fire, several firefighters wore weaved masks under their helmets and over their faces, exposing only their eyes. Many wore outfits crusted with ice.

Kingston Street resembled an ice rink as water gushing out the side of the building froze on the road surface.

“With all the ice we had out there, we had to be concerned that people might be flipping (on the ice) or getting frostbite or hypothermia,” Chief Bergeron said.

Bergeron said there were no known injuries from the fire that broke out shortly before 5 p.m. A dozen fire departments from the region responded. Fire units from Salem, N.H., Methuen, Middleton, North Andover, Haverhill, Tewksbury, Andover and North Reading helped city firefighters battle the blaze while the Dracut, Reading, Danvers and Wilmington Fire Departments provided back-up coverage for the rest of the city.

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