Updated: 02-23-2007 11:52:18 AM

Courtesy of The Boston Herald

A troubled tenant who was attempting to dry laundry in the stove of his North End apartment sparked a blazing six-alarm inferno that tore through three attached buildings and left 50 residents homeless, according to the owner of the buildings and Boston firefighters.

"Can you imagine that? I never should have let him in," said an emotional Ernie Capone, 68, who has owned the buildings for 35 years, adding that he was heartbroken for his tenants. "I feel so bad for these people. They're all young kids."

The three buildings house 19 apartments, which tenant Holly Hawkins, 30, described as "nice, exposed brick" apartments that allow pets, but offer no laundry facilities. Hawkins said she was returning from a trip to a laundromat when she smelled smoke.

"I looked out into the hallway and just saw thick black smoke rolling down the stairs," she said. "It looked like something out of a movie."

She raced back inside to grab her two cats, Lex and Oscar, and dashed to the street.

"I was in there three minutes and by the time I opened the door again I couldn't see. The hallway was so thick with smoke."

Boston fire Chief Kevin MacCurtain said the fast-moving fire started about 6:54 p.m., spreading from the lower floors and bursting through the roof, forcing firefighters there to abandon their posts when it began collapsing.

No one was injured in the blaze, which Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said caused at least $1.5 million in damage.

MacDonald said the building is considered a total loss. He said the cause of the blaze is under investigation.

Hawkins said she planned to stay with friends. But Mayor Thomas Menino, who stood on Endicott Street and watched as firefighters snuffed out the embers of the fire, said he opened St. Mary's Church to displaced residents.

"It's fortunate no one was injured," Menino said.

Last night, five-year tenant Emily Trask, 29, held out hope her cat found an escape route. "It's all I'm concerned about right now," she said.

Republished with permission of The Boston Herald.

photo below
Courtesy of The Boston Herald/David Goldman
Firefighters work a fire on Endicott Street in the North End Thursday night.