AMESBURY - About 20 Heritage Towers residents were driven from their homes yesterday around lunchtime following a small kitchen fire on the sixth floor of the 10-story complex. It wasn't the fire that lead to their evacuation, but the several hundreds of gallons of water used to extinguish the blaze in unit 610.
Amesbury fire Chief Jonathan Brickett said the sprinklers quickly knocked down the fire. But by the time the sprinkler system was deactivated, water began gushing downward, entering several adjacent apartments all the way down to the third floor.
At least two people were brought to Anna Jaques Hospital as a result of the fire, including the woman who lives in unit 610. Another woman, waiting inside the community room, was transported to the hospital hours later. Neither appeared to be seriously injured.
Heritage Towers has 102 units and of those, 18 suffered water damage to varying degrees.
Shortly after the fire alarms went off in the building, fourth-floor resident Ron McIntyre said he noticed water pooling outside his apartment. When he went inside to his kitchen, he saw water gushing from cabinets.
"Ruined all the food, everything," McIntyre said.
For several hours, affected residents waited downstairs inside the tower's community room until most were transported to the nearby Council on Aging's senior center by a Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority evacuation bus as well as a MVRTA van equipped with a chair lift. A handful of residents were met by family members who brought them to their homes.
City officials, including Housing Authority Executive Director Robert Mazzone and Mayor Thatcher Kezer, kept residents abreast of the situation until residents were moved at roughly 5 p.m. In the meantime, a representative from the city's food pantry, Our Neighbor's Table, arrived with food and drink, and pizzas were ordered. An Amesbury Fire Department emergency medical technician was also stationed inside the room to aid those who needed medical attention.
"Excitement usually brings on other things," Brickett said.
The Housing Authority oversees the Main Street tower complex for the town and its headquarters are located on the first floor.
Assisting local firefighters were units from Salisbury and Merrimac along with Newburyport fire Chief Stephen Cutter. Local police officers blocked off the southbound lane of Main Street and the Emergency Management Agency's command truck was inside the building's driveway. Representatives from the American Red Cross also were on hand.
Amesbury Building Inspector Denis Nadeau said it could be awhile before the residents of units 610 and 510 are allowed to return home. Nadeau said those two units suffered extensive water damage.
"They're just saturated," Nadeau said.
All other residents could be back in their homes as early as later today, he said.
Repairs to the sprinkler and fire alarm systems, damaged during the incident, were already underway by late afternoon yesterday. Both systems will have to be fully operational and inspected before residents are allowed back.