Blaze Engulfs 14 Buildings in Massachusetts

Posted: 01-21-2008
Updated: 01-21-2008 09:11:51 AM

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A massive seven-alarm blaze in downtown Lawrence that burned at least 14 buildings on Monday is being considered suspicious, officials said.

The fire near the intersection of Parker and Market streets started at about 2:30 a.m. and destroyed an entire city block of apartments, garages and commercial space early Monday morning. One of the buildings destroyed was a home for special needs residents. Officials said they all got out safely.

"Currently, this has escalated to 14 buildings, 26 occupied units, two commercial occupancies. We also have a program here for mentally challenged individuals, and we just lost this building," said Lawrence Fire Chief Peter Takvorian.

Officials said the fire started in the empty Millennium Club and quickly spread to nearby buildings.

"It was an unoccupied nightclub that was being renovated. That is where this fire started. An ambulance company going by noticed flames on the second and third floors," Takvorian said.

Takvorian said investigators consider the fire to be suspicious.

"Absolutely it is suspicious. We have a task force here. We investigate every suspicious fire in this city," Takvorian said.

Officials said the weather and frozen hydrants are hampering their attempts to fight the fire. It took more than four hours to contain the blaze.

"It is a very difficult fight right now. We are fighting water pressure losses and a pretty good wind, cold temperatures. We have approximately nine out-of-town companies that are on scene, mutual aid that is helping us fight this fire," Takvorian said.

At least one person was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. It is unclear if there were any other injuries. About 200 residents were evacuated.

"The house was completely burned by the time we woke up. The Millennium Club was completely engulfed in flames and the walls were falling down. That is the noise we heard," resident Santos Aceredo said.

"We are just happy to be alive and everybody else that got out. This is all material that can be replaced -- but the lives cannot," resident Diana Legro said.

Lawrence Building inspector Greg Arvanitis said some of the buildings that did not burn to the ground may need to be torn down.

"They may have mild damage, smoke, water. And from what I am gathering, about five or six buildings down Market and Springfield street are in question," Arvanitis said.

Lawrence officials said this is the worst fire they can remember in the city.

"I've never seen a fire like this in Lawrence. I have lived here pretty much all my life. Back in the 1980s when we had a lot of single-dwelling fires, or structure fires, it was kind of spread out. But nothing to this extent that I have seen," Arvanitis said

The state fire marshal is at the scene, as well as the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The Red Cross is helping displaced residents, but they said they do not know how many people have lost their homes. A shelter has been set up at the South Lawrence East Elementary School.

Several roads near the fire were closed, and drivers were asked to seek alternate routes. Parker Street from Merrimack to South Union streets, Salem Street, Springfield Street and Market Street are closed, SmartRoute's Jeff Larson said.

NewsCenter 5 and will have more details as they are available.

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