Washington Street apartment building fire displaces 28 people, including 11 children

·3 min read

Jul. 21—HAVERHILL — Twenty-eight people, including 11 children, were displaced after a fire broke out late Wednesday night in a nine unit apartment building at 273-275 Washington St., fire officials said.

No residents and no firefighters were injured, Fire Chief Robert O'Brien said, adding that the fire is believed to have been caused by electrical wiring.

He said several of the building's resident told investigators that they had smelled smoke around 5:30 p.m. but thought it was coming from outdoors, as their windows were open.

Then at 11:09 p.m., a resident called the fire department to report a smoke alarm was sounding, O'Brien said.

"This drew the first fire truck — Engine 1 from the High Street station," O'Brien said. "They were en route when they were updated of a haze of smoke in a hallway so we sent a full assignment of trucks from three of our four stations, including three pumps, a ladder, a rescue truck and car 2."

O'Brien said the Engine 1 crew checked apartments 6 and 9 on reports of smoke, then focused on a smoke-filled hallway outside of apartment 9, which is on the top floor of the three story building.

"The hallway in the area of apartment 9 was where the smoke was the heaviest so they ripped down the ceiling and found an active fire and attacked it while at the same time firefighters on the ladder truck cut a hole in the roof as the fire was in a crawl space above the third floor ceiling and beneath the roof," O'Brien said. "They battled it from above and below.

"This was a great stop as it could have easily gotten out of hand," the chief added, noting the fire was burning with intensity and burned through that area of the wooden structure.

At the same time, in a coordinated effort, the rescue truck crew searched the building to ensure all of the building's occupants got out safely, he said.

"Although the fire was caught quickly, the water used to extinguish can get into the building's electrical wiring, which could create a second fire so the power to the building had to be shut off," O'Brien said, explaining this one reason why the building's occupants had to be relocated. "They are hoping to get some of the residents back in a soon as they can, based on evaluations by inspectional services along with our department."

O'Brien credited the caller for reporting hearing a smoke alarm, which prompted a quick response by his department.

"If we didn't catch it as quick as we did this would have been a difficult fire to fight given the size of the building and the heat conditions we're working in right now," he said about this week's heat wave. "The person who called helped us with a quick response. In these situations minutes count."

Deb Duxbury, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of Northeast Massachusetts, said her team opened eight cases with 28 people, 11 of whom were under the age of 18.

"We gave them credit/debit cards they can use for lodging, food, clothing and other needs, and we can also work with their insurance companies on prescription refills as we can help pay for those medications."