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North Adams Apartment Fire Displaces 20 People
By Tammy Daniels On: 01:31PM / Thursday April 10, 2014
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Amanda Beckwith is reunited with one of her cats. Beckwith lives in the apartment below where the fire broke out. More photos can be seen here.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — About 20 people were temporarily homeless after a fire broke out early Thursday afternoon on the fourth floor of a Furnace Street apartment building.

Damage was limited to one side the eight-unit building at 132-146 Furnace St.; no was injured.

Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said it was possible the tenants in the four units on the south side of the building could return home by the end of the day, depending on the health inspector's approval.

"It's under investigation right now with the North Adams Police and Fire Departments," he said. The fire marshal's office had not been called so far. "It doesn't appear to be suspicious. We're going to do our thing and then if we need to call them, we will."

The building has a commanding view of the city's downtown and smoke could be seen from Main Street pouring from the top of building.

"Leaving the station, we could see the smoke, we called for all off-duty firefighters," said Meranti. "We got on the scene found fire on the rear porch in the roof area. ... It had extended into the attic space."

At about noon, neighbors noticed smoke and flames on the decking on the eastern side of the building. All of the occupants home at the time escaped unharmed.

"I heard crackling and then I smelled something a minute or two later ...  it was a plasticy kind of burning smell," said Amanda Beckwith, who lives in the apartment directly below where the fire started. "Then I looked out the window and saw fire [in the decking above] ... we ran out."

Beckwith, a photographer, ran back in to grab her camera. By the time she realized the seriousness of the situation, the fire trucks had arrived and she was unable to get back in to rescue her cats. By mid-afternoon, two of her pets had been removed unharmed but a three more were still inside.

Animal Control Officer Carrie Loholdt was on the scene to assist with pet recovery.

Fire trucks maneuvered the steep street to get in front of the structure and a ladder truck was used to reach and break through the roof to combat the blaze.

"We had to make sure we kept the front of the building open so we could move the ladder truck in here," Meranti said, explaining some of the difficulties in accessing the building, which is three stories on Furnace but four stories and a steep lawn facing Francis Street below.

"It's very labor intensive to fight a fire in a building like this. The guys took a real beating on this one," he said. "They did a great job getting here quickly the way they did and getting the water on it.  We prevented it from extending to the other apartments."

The Furnace and Francis streets were closed down as firefighters from the city, Adams and Clarksburg brought it under control it. North Adams Ambulance Service was on scene to provide recovery services for firefighters and Williamstown Fire Department was covering the station.

Neighbors and occupants of the building watched from Francis Street as burning shingles fell to the lawn and water poured down.

"The heat and the fire are trapped in the attic, so it's building, accelerating in the attic," said Meranti. "By opening the hole in the roof, you're directing the fire to where you want it to go.    

"So it's not extending horizontally, it's extending the fire vertically so we can get in there and get it from underneath."
 
Meranti said firefighters were successful in doing that, which prevented the blaze from reaching the apartments on the south side. The fire damage was contained to the top apartment in the northeast corner; the apartments below it suffered smoke and water damage.

The gas and electric were shut off but the owner's electrician was going to see if the power could be restored to separate units.

Nichole Bushey, who lives in the apartment where the fire started with her boyfriend, George Sawtelle, said she lost everything. Both she and Sawtelle were at work when the fire started; a friend and neighbor called to tell them what had happened.

Bushey said she'd lived in the building for about a year, but it was the second time a fire had left her homeless. She'd been living in the apartment building on Washington Avenue when it burned down around 2006.

The building's owner Charles Swabey, who owns multiple properties in the city, was confident the building was salvageable: "It's going to be around for a long time."

He said he loved the architecture of the house, which is notable for the number of wrap-around porches and balconies.  

"I bought it in 2003, it was one of the first ones we bought," he said.

Seven of the eight units were occupied and about 20 people were living in the structure. The Red Cross had been contacted.

Update: complete rewrite with comments from fire chief at 4:30 p.m.

 



     
Three Arrested in North Adams Drug Raid
On: 05:03PM / Tuesday March 18, 2014
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two city residents and a New York man were arrested on drug charges Monday night after a raid that garnered some 100 baggies full of cocaine.

Brenda Blasi, 46, and Thomas Massey Jr., 43, both of North Adams, and Tareem Jackson, 26, of East Sunnyside Street in Troy, N.Y., are being charged with trafficking in crack cocaine (more than 36 grams); possession of a Class B substance (crack cocaine) with the intent to distribute (third offense for Blasi and second offense for Jackson), and conspiracy to violate the Controlled Substances Act.

Massey was also arrested on three arrest warrants for failing to appear at Northern Berkshire District Court for narcotics offenses.

North Adams Police and members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, with the assistance of the Berkshire County Special Response Team, executed a search warrant at Blasi's home at 74 Liberty St. at about 9 p.m. on Monday.

Police said a man in the front yard of the home when officers arrived ran into the house and attempted to flush baggies down the toilet. Officers searched the house and, with the assistance of Department of Public Works personnel and the plumbing inspector, recovered more than 100 baggies of crack cocaine that were lodged in the house's drain.

The street value of the crack cocaine was estimated at more than $5,000.

All three were held on cash bail and arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court on Tuesday morning.

Blasi had been previously indicted for drug trafficking in the breakup of a drug ring at Wheel Estates Mobile Home Park in 2008, uncovered after the slaying of Daniel J. Walters.



     
North Adams Rollover Sends Driver to Hospital
Staff Reports On: 10:27AM / Tuesday March 11, 2014
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A sport-utility vehicle rolled over at the bottom of Massachusetts Avenue on Tuesday morning, sending the driver to North Adams Regional Hospital.

The black Chevy Tracker ZR-2 apparently veered out of the lane, hitting the banking on the westbound lane and rolling over. It came to rest rightside up across the eastbound lane.

The only occupant was the woman driving the vehicle. The road was briefly closed to remove the vehicle.

No other information is immediately available.



     
North Adams Collision Sends One to Hospital
By Rebecca Dravis On: 01:46PM / Monday March 10, 2014
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The driver of a pickup involved in a collision on Monday looks over the damage with a police officer.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police are investigating a two-vehicle accident on East Main Street that occurred around midday on Monday.

The pickup trunk and small sedan collided head-on the curve near the intersection of East Main Street and Summit Avenue.

The driver of the westbound car, heading down the steep street, left the scene fairly quickly but police were reported to be looking to speak to him again.

The driver of the Dodge pickup truck was not injured. The passenger, his wife, was taken away by ambulance but was conscious and talking on the phone.

Neighbors and police said this part of East Main Street has been problematic in the past because it is steep and curvy.

"Bad spot," Officer Ivan Cardeno said at the scene. "It's a bad corner."



     
North Adams Woman Killed in Single-Car Accident
By Tammy Daniels On: 11:10AM / Friday March 07, 2014
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police are investigating a fatal accident that occurred at 7 a.m. on Friday morning on West Main Street.

A local woman was killed when she apparently lost control of her Chrysler minivan and crashed into the guard rail, then sheared off a utility pole. The van hit a second pole and came to rest facing north not far from the entrance of Hillside Cemetery.

The name of the driver is being withheld pending notification of kin. She was the only occupant in the vehicle.

The victim has been identified as Deborah Pierce, 56, of Cleveland Avenue.

"She was heading west at a high rate of speed when she lost control," said Police Director Michael Cozzaglio. "Speed was a factor, absolutely, a high rate of speed."

The van's engine was resting next to the second utility; the driver was ejected and found about 10 feet away.

The highway was closed since the accident and traffic has been rerouted over Protection Avenue and Roberts Drive on the west side and Brown Street on the east.

The state police accident reconstruction unit was at the scene along with North Adams Police and Fire, and North Adams Ambulance Service. At the time of posting, the wreck was being cleared by Dean's Quality Auto but the road was going to be closed for awhile longer for National Grid to replace the pole.



     
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