EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2013

10 people lose everything in early morning fire

Firefighters discover pet cats alive and well

By Jill Harmacinski
jharmacinski@eagletribune.com

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LAWRENCE — A three-alarm fire ravaged a two-family house on Berkeley Street early yesterday, leaving 10 people homeless and two firefighters injured.

Heavy flames were billowing out the windows and attic of 70-72 Berkeley St. when the first firefighters arrived at 2:15 a.m. The 2 1/2-story wood frame house is located in the city’s Prospect Hill neighborhood.

By 2:26 a.m., the third alarm sounded, summoning mutual aid coverage from fire departments as far away as Tewksbury and Dracut, fire officials said.

The fire gutted the building and burned most of its contents, Deputy fire Chief Brian Murphy said. He estimated the total loss at $350,000. This number is based on the cost to rebuild and the value of the things that were lost, but is not related to the real estate value of the property.

Firefighting efforts were hampered by an inadequate water supply, which officials blamed on antiquated water mains and pipes in the area.

“In that part of the city, there is a not a whole lot of water volume,” said Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron.

Crews initially made an interior attack in the home, but were forced outside due to the monstrous flames and heat. An aggressive “defensive” attack was immediately launched outside the home.

“The fire was too much and it got to be too dangerous,” Bergeron said, explaining why firefighters were pulled outside.

“The cause of this fire will probably be left ‘undetermined’ because there was too much damage,” the chief said.

Residents on the second floor said they first saw fire in the ceiling and light fixtures and space between the second floor and the attic, Bergeron said.

The 10 people who lost their home and belongings are all family members who lived on both floors of the two-story home. One resident was taken to a local hospital as a precaution, Deputy Chief Murphy said.

Lawrence Firefighter Jose Ortiz suffered a knee injury battling the blaze. Methuen fire Lt. Sandra Cunha was also injured. Both were taken to local hospitals for treatment, fire officials said. Details about Cunha’s injuries were unavailable.

Miraculously, firefighters yesterday found two cats alive and unharmed in the burnt-out shell of the Berkeley Street home.The cats, one black and one white, were discovered in a first floor bedroom. One was sitting on a shelf and another was on a bed, according to Deputy Chief Murphy.

Both cats were immediately reunited with their happy owners, he said.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts assisted the four adults and six children who were forced out by the fire.

“Volunteers were able to provide both families with emergency temporary shelter at a hotel and emergency funds for food, clothing and winter coats,” Red Cross spokeswoman Kat Powers said yesterday.

“We also handed out toys on scene, Mickey Mouses provided by our partner Disney, and socks. It’s cold, but a neighbor allowed volunteers to use their living room as a warming center to keep everyone while determining their needs,” Powers said.

In addition to Lawrence crews, firefighters from North Andover, Andover , Dracut, Methuen and Lowell battled the fire. Firefighters from North Reading, Haverhill, Tewksbury and Danvers covered the city during the blaze, Murphy said.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill. Mark E. Vogler also contributed to this story.