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Merrimack Valley

January 30, 2014

Blaze destroys 3-family home, leaves 15 homeless

Second devastating fire in neighborhood in 12 months

LAWRENCE — For the second time in barely more than a year, a 3-alarm fire gutted the home of somebody close to Jose Reyes.

On Jan. 19 of last year, an early morning fire quickly destroyed the two-story home of Reyes' future mother-in-law Toni Ayala, at 70-72 Berkeley St.

About 4 p.m., fire broke out around the corner in the three-decker at 32 Hall St., owned by Reyes' mother, Lillian Ramos.

"My sister came over the house screaming that the house was on fire," said Reyes, who now lives in the house that was rebuilt last year after burning to the ground.

"I ran through all the apartments to make sure everybody was out. Nobody, except for the family dog, was inside the house," he said.

Three families totaling 15 residents were displaced by the smoky, pesky fire that ravaged 32 Hall St. Reyes' sister, who lived on the third floor, was being treated at the hospital for smoke inhalation. Firefighters estimated there was $275,000 in damage.

City firefighters were still at the scene at 9 last night, pouring water on what was left of the 94-year-old, wood-framed home located in the north central part of the city, not far from the Methuen line.

Deputy Fire Chief Brian Murphy said that the cause of the fire is undetermined at this time.

Lawrence's acting Fire Chief John Marsh said the task of extinguishing the fire was difficult because of the building's balloon-frame structure. “Balloon construction” is a common building technique in houses that age. Long studs run all the way from the basement to the roof without fire breaks, funneling fire and smoke through the walls, enabling flames to move quickly from floor to floor.

"When it's a fire in the walls, the race is on," Marsh said in an interview at the fire scene last night.

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