The cause of the fire had not been determined last night. Fire investigators were set to sift through the heavily-damaged, century-old building at the intersection of South Broadway and Kingston Street early today. Chief Bergeron estimated the fire damage to be “at least $250,000.”
The fire damage was confined to the third floor and the roof, with water damage throughout the rest of the building.
The first alarm sounded at 4:43 p.m. and quickly escalated to a second at 4:46 p.m. and a third at 4:53 p.m. A fourth was sounded about a half hour later.
Lawrence Auxiliary Police Chief Jay Jackson and his force of 21 volunteers had to block off South Broadway at both ends at several intersections, virtually closing a major commuter artery during the evening rush hour, as the fire cast filthy, stinking clouds of soot and freezing mist over a southeast corner of the city on one of the season’s coldest nights.
A man and a woman who lived in one of the two, third-floor apartments watched the fire from across South Broadway beside the steps of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, where they huddled in each other’s arms and monitored their pet rabbit, Midnight, in a cage at their feet. Both declined to be interviewed.
“They said they had heard some crackling up in the ceiling, that’s what alerted them to the fire,” Chief Bergeron said. Two residents who lived in the other apartment were at work at the time of the fire, he said.
The four-alarm fire was the second major blaze in Lawrence yesterday, exhausting firefighting ranks that still are being rebuilt following layoffs two years ago. At about 10 a.m., a two-alarm fire burned through 124 Weare St., also located off South Broadway near the Andover Line. One firefighter suffered minor injuries in that blaze. Local firefighters also battled a four-alarm fire in Lowell at 34 Boisvert St. yesterday afternoon.