By Bill Kirk
---- — ANDOVER — Renee Manning said he was in his condominium in Building 9 of Crescent View Drive when he heard someone yelling.
He looked across a narrow courtyard separating his building from Building 8 and saw smoke pouring out of the neighboring structure. Then he saw a woman on a third-level balcony.
“The woman came out yelling, ‘Help! Help!’” said Manning. “She was in her mid-70s. Then she went back inside. Everyone called for her to come back out.”
Thick, black smoke that smelled like burning rubber or an electrical fire was billowing out of the mostly brick building just before midnight late Sunday night.
Firefighters then set up a ladder and climbed up to rescue the woman from the balcony.
One other woman was rescued from her second-floor apartment as thick smoke filled the hallway. She was taken from the scene by ambulance, but was not seriously injured, according to Fire Chief Michael Mansfield.
In all, 21 people, including a number of children, were evacuated from the garden-style condominium building late Sunday night and early Monday morning when a fire erupted in the bedroom of a basement unit.
Andover Fire Deputy Kevin Connors said several 911 calls came into the department at approximately 11:40 p.m.
When firefighters arrived, they found heavy smoke pouring from the building and flames in a basement unit bedroom.
At first, firefighters fought the fire from the exterior of the 12-unit building while simultaneously doing a search and rescue operation of people inside the building.
“Once we got into the room we knocked it down quickly,” he said. “Then it’s just making sure it’s ventilated. But there was also a search and rescue going on because we had confirmed reports of people in the building. We had our hands full. It was a tremendous effort by all hands involved.”
All residents were accounted for, Connors said.
The fire is under investigation by state fire inspectors and the cause is not known at this time, he said.
Mansfield said the fire did start in the bedroom of the basement level condo and spread from there. Otherwise, a cause remains unknown, he said.
He said the 12 units probably won’t be habitable for several days because of heavy smoke damage.
“Fire crews who responded did a heck of a job containing the fire to the unit of origin,” he said. “It could have been a lot more serious, even though it was serious.”
He said a state trooper from the state Fire Marshal’s office is investigating and should file a report later this week, Mansfield said.
Property manager George “Lee” Giurgio said 21 people lived in the building, including several children. He was escorting residents back into the building yesterday morning but couldn’t let anyone stay inside.
“People can get in to get their stuff, but they cannot move in for now,” he said. “I need the Building Inspector to give me the OK.”
He said the whole interior smells like smoke.
Red Cross workers arrived on scene just after midnight Monday morning amid reports that 10 people from 11 of the units needed assistance. Only one unit was vacant, according to Deputy Connors.
The Red Cross ended up assisting three families by putting them up in a local hotel. Red Cross also provided emergency funds for food to those residents, according to Kat Powers, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.
She said most of the rest of the people in the building, who either own or lease the condos, are staying with family in the area.
Connors said while the fire was confined to the bedroom there was a lot of smoke and fire damage in the apartment where the fire started, as well as smoke damage throughout the building.
The one-alarm blaze was fought by nearly the entire Fire Department. Mutual aid was needed to cover the central and outlying stations from the North Andover, Lawrence and Tewksbury fire departments.
“It was all-hands on deck,” Connors said. “They confined the fire to the area of origin. It was a tremendous effort. They extinguished the fire and rescued residents of the building.”
The fire was under control by 12:11 a.m., although firefighters remained on scene for most of the rest of the morning, until around 4 a.m.
Also responding to the fire were utility companies National Grid and Columbia Gas.