LAWRENCE – Second-floor residents of the two-family home at 9 Lafayette Ave. saw flames flare from their artificial Christmas tree late Friday night, just before they escaped with their lives as a fire erupted and ravaged the 88-year-old house.
“Some of the occupants told our investigators that they did see the fire in the tree,” Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said yesterday. “It could have been the wiring in the tree itself. But we don’t know and it’s going to be impossible to determine whether the fire started in the tree or in an extension chord to the tree. It’s probably going to go down as ‘undetermined,’ because the fire pretty much destroyed any evidence that remained. There wasn’t too much left.”
The three-alarm blaze that broke out just minutes before 11 Friday night and continued to burn into early yesterday morning left 17 people homeless, including the 11 residents of 9 Lafayette Ave. Another six residents of the house at 13-15 Lafayette Ave. were left temporarily homeless because fire damaged the roof and windows and burned into the house itself.
Overall, the fire caused an estimated $375,000 in property damage to five buildings at the corner of Lafayette and Pere Marquette avenues – including $200,000 to the two-and-half story wood frame structure that was destroyed, according to Deputy Fire Chief John McInnis. Also destroyed were two cars parked in the driveway of the burned-out structure.
While Bergeron said any clues to the cause of the fire were likely destroyed in the inferno, the department’s fire investigators have ruled out arson.
“There does not appear to be any reason to suspect malicious intent on anybody’s part,” the chief said. Firefighters had the blaze under control by about 1 a.m. yesterday, and maintained an overnight fire watch, according to McInnis . Miraculously, everyone got out safely and there were no major injuries reported. Fire officials said that nine people taken to the hospital were released by 2 or 3 a.m. yesterday.