Woman jumps to safety as fire guts building

MIKE LaBELLA / Staff PhotoFlames shoot from the roof of an apartment building during a three-alarm fire Friday morning in Merrimac. A woman was forced to jump from her second-floor apartment window, but was not seriously injured. No one was hurt in the fire.

MERRIMAC – Neighbors who saw smoke pouring from an apartment building joined a police officer on the scene to urge a second-floor resident to jump to safety from a window in her burning apartment building Friday morning.

As fire ripped through the right side of the Greenleaf Park apartment building Friday, Marylin Judson, who lives in another of the eight buildings in the complex, told reporters she saw smoke around 8:30 a.m. and ran to the structure.

Smoke was "billowing out the front door," she said.

Judson said she heard a woman on the second floor crying for help, so she, Merrimac Police Officer Robert Coppola and other civilians encouraged the woman to jump out of the window to safety and caught her.

The woman was seen in an ambulance a short time later. She reportedly twisted her ankle and was shaken up by the ordeal, but was not otherwise injured. She was taken to Anna Jaques Hospital for evaluation.

Judson was accompanied by neighbor Paige Ouellette, who was about to leave for work when she saw smoke and dialed 911.

"We were running around the building trying to figure out if anyone was inside, and then we saw the window open and saw (the resident) inside,"  Ouellette said. "We were yelling at her to jump and then she did. It was insane."

Fire Chief Ralph Spencer and Police Chief Eric M. Shears reported that the three-alarm fire destroyed the building, displacing five residents and causing about $1 million in damage.

High winds fed the blaze and required a large response of firefighters and engines. Spencer praised the professionalism of the firefighters and other first-responders at the scene, and said afterward he was glad no civilians were seriously injured. The fire was contained to the building where it began, he said in a release.

Firefighters from half a dozen communities responded. They cut through the roof and ran hoses inside and from above.The apartment building is at Greenleaf Park, a complex across from the Merrimac Public Library.

The fire burned through the right side of the two-story building, which is across from the Merrimac Public Library. The burning building contains four units. Reports on the scene said most people already had left for work when the fire started and all residents escaped safely.

Building owner Milton Smith said the other tenants are members of his extended family — his niece and two nephews — but that they had already left for work by the time the fire started. 

"It was definitely scary," Smith said. "I was glad to hear the tenants were all safe." 

The Merrimac Fire Department received extensive mutual aid from neighboring towns and the Seacoast Chief Fire Officers Mutual Aid District, which sent firefighters from throughout the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Seacoast to assist.

Departments at the fire scene included Amesbury, Salisbury, West Newbury, Newburyport, Newton, N.H., and East Kingston, N.H., while fire units from Groveland, Georgetown, and Plaistow, N.H., covered the Merrimac fire stations. The State Fire Marshal's Office rehab unit also responded.

The origin and cause of the fire are under investigation by the Merrimac fire and police departments and State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey's office.



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