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Roofing Work May Have Caused North Adams Fire

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
Firefighters contained a fire that started on a new porch roof at a home undergoing renovation on East Main Street.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — An errant ember may be to blame for a fire at a home undergoing renovations on East Main Street.

The house is owned by Neal Segala; it is currently unoccupied.

Neighbors said the building across from the intersection with Gallup Street had been undergoing renovations all summer. An old addition had been pulled off and a new open L-shaped porch had been built. The fire apparently began on top of the porch roof on the front left corner of the house.

"They had people working on the building today," said Fire Director Stephen Meranti. "It started on that roof and that's where they were working ... They use a torch to heat up the roofing materials and it got into the framing ...  and extended into the wall."

It is believed an ember from the torch may have flared up inside the roof or wall.

The work stopped at about 4 p.m.; several calls reporting smoke and fire came in about 4:42. Meranti said a column of smoke could be seen from the downtown. All off-duty firefighters were called in.

"When we got here we had fire on the roof and the exterior wall," he said. "The guys did a great job. They grabbed the ladder to the roof, stretched a line to the roof."

Firefighters led by Lt. John Paciorek attacked the blaze from the roof and forced entrance into the vacant building to see if it extended inside. The exterior wall was pulled off at the corner and inside a second story room; firefighters also pulled of the exterior molding on the first floor. The window on the second story room was also pulled out.

The 19th-century house has balloon construction and plank walls.

"We got it before it really extended up into the attic," Meranti said. "We had to open up some walls but it's not super damaged."

The owner was planning to secure the building for the night.

     

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North Adams Man Arrested in Rash of Dumpster Fires

Staff Reports
Scott Baker

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Police say they have caught an a man believed responsible for nearly a dozen trash container and other fires over the past month.

Scott Baker was arrested on Sunday and charged with eight counts of burning a personal property (a Dumpster) and two counts of burning leaves.

The investigation began Sept. 25 when a trash container behind the North Adams Juvenile Court on Center Street was set on fire — continued to be set on fire on a weekly basis.

There were also two additional incidents on Friday, Halloween, during which piles of leaves were set on fire behind the North Adams Public Library and the old Notre Dame Church on East Main Street. The trash container behind North Adams Juvenile Court was also set on fire the same night.

Baker was apprehended based on video surveillance of the trash container behind the North Adams Juvenile Court. He was noticed walking on Ashland Street by officers shortly after the fire was extinguished. Baker was wearing the same clothes upon apprehension as he was when he set the trash container on fire, said police.

Baker is being held on $1,040 cash bail and will be arraigned in Northern Berkshire District Court on Monday.

     

North Adams Apartment Fire Forces Families Out

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
A fire in a back unit of a Loftus Street apartment building forces five families from their homes.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Five families were forced from their homes on Sunday afternoon after the rearmost unit in a River Street apartment building caught fire.

Crystal Fitzpatrick, who had lived in the back unit with her three daughters since March, said she was at the market when her teenage daughter, Karizme, called to tell her their home was on fire.

"I had to ask someone for a ride," she said. "I got there and it was full of smoke. I dropped everything and started throwing water at the wall."

Fitzpatrick and Karizme were able to get out of the apartment with their rabbit. The two younger girls, Serenity and Destiny, were at a friend's house. Two hamsters on the first floor were rescued unharmed but much of their belongings were likely lost, including a cache of Christmas presents, according to the girl's grandmother, Eddine Fitzpatrick.

Fire Director Stephen Meranti said firefighters responded to the smoke alarm activation, which came in at about 3:13 p.m., and were informed en route that there was confirmed smokes and flames coming from the building at the corner of Loftus and River streets. All off-duty firefighters were called in.

Firefighters found a blaze on the first floor had moved up the wall into the attic area in the back unit of the two-story structure. The older balloon construction with no fire stops and little insulation helped the fire spread through the back exterior wall.

"It was a quick response and an aggressive attack," Meranti said, that contained the blaze before it could spread to adjoining apartments and close by buildings. "These guys did a great job."

Firefighters brought in hoses through the first floor and used the ladder truck to ventilate the ceiling, leaving a large hole in the roof. The adjacent apartment was also entered but was determined to be safe.

The unit received extensive water and smoke damage, although firefighters did what they could to cover the items in side.

River Street was closed between Veazie and Brown streets for several hours; North Adams Ambulance Service, the Wire & Alarm Division and health inspector were also on scene. A fire watch is in place at the building.

Crystal Fitzpatrick believed the fire may have been electrical because it was in the wall; she said she had been having problems with some of the outlets. Meranti said the cause had not yet been determined and that it was under investigation. The building is owned by Michael Deep, who also was at the scene.

Tenants gathered outside the building in the chilly temperatures, several without overcoats or proper footwear because of how quickly they had fled the building. Karizme Fitzpatrick was wrapped up on the ground in a sleeping bag with her bunny, Foo-foo, to keep warm.

"The whole thing was smoking," said Eddine Fitzpatrick, as she comforted Karizme and her mother. "She's afraid everything's gone."

Fitzpatrick said she had had the two bedrooms for the girls redone and expected that all their clothing, if not burnt, was now severely damaged. The Christmas presents stashed in the attic by the chimney were likely gone, too, she said.

Power was cut to all the apartments and tenants were expected to be helped tonight by the Red Cross. Mingling around in the chill wind, they hugged each other in commiseration and wondered what was next.

"Why do these things happen to us when we're working so hard to get ahead?" wondered one woman.

     

Two Students Arrested at Different Schools with Loaded Weapons

Staff Reports

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A high school student and a college student were found with loaded weapons this week after each created a disturbance at their respective campuses.

On Tuesday night, a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts student was arrested at the North Adams campus after becoming belligerent during an evening class. Chris LaFrance, 25, was allegedly intoxicated when campus police pepper sprayed him; upon arresting him, police said they found a loaded handgun on his person. While reportedly licensed to carry a firearm, LaFrance is facing a number of charges related to the incident and the public school where he had been training was apprised of his arrest and terminated his participation.

Pittsfield school officials say a Taconic High School student was arrested Thursday morning for creating a disturbance and a loaded gun was found on his person.

At no point was the weapon made visible to any student or staff member at Taconic, according to officials.

The Taconic administration said it is working with the Pittsfield Police Department to further investigate the matter.  

"Principal Vosburgh and his staff followed Pittsfield Public School safety protocol to the letter. School administration and Pittsfield Police effectively took all appropriate measures to efficiently address the situation and safeguard the school community," said Mayor Daniel Bianchi in a statement. "I am confident in Dr. McCandless' leadership and the professionalism of school staff as we continue to collaborate with community partners."

McCandless, Pittsfield Public Schools superintendent, said safety protocols are in place at all schools and are practiced regularly. The school community and parents will be kept informed, he said.

"The safety and concern of our students is the highest priority. All schools in the district have safety response protocols and procedures in place. Families are encouraged to partner with the school administration regarding any information that could be of assistance to help continue to maintain a safe and secure environment," according to a press release from City Hall.

     
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