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White Terrace Apartment Fire Ruled Accidental

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
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Firefighters battle a blaze in the middle building of White Terrace Apartments.
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Update: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 10:52 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. - Fire officials say the fire was caused by a battery charging on a bed and then catching the mattress on fire.

Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said the electronic device set the mattress on fire. Doors were left open, allowing the fire to quickly spread to other units. From there, tenants on the third floor evacuated, leaving doors open and the fire expanded from there.
 
Czerwinski asks residents to remember to close doors to help restrict fire expansion.
 
Czerwinski said the building is "heavily damaged" but is still be assessed. 
 
In total four people were transported to Berkshire Medical Center for treatment from the fire. all of the injuries were minor and no one was admitted. Only one of those were treated for injuries related to the fire while the other three were transported for minor issues not related to the fire.
 


A pet rabbit is among pets rescued from the building. 

Original: Sunday, September 10, 2017 at 9:26 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — At least two dozen people were forced from their White Terrace homes when their building caught fire. 

 

 
The middle building of the three structures that make up White Terrace Apartments off North Street, two blocks from Berkshire Medical Center, was fully involved with flames and smoke pouring from the third floor. 
 
The reports of a fire came in around 6:42 p.m. and firefighters and equipment from Dalton Hinsdale, Lanesborough and Lenox responded at the scene or to cover the Pittsfield station. 
 
Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said firefighters found heavy fire coming from the third floor on the front windows and west side of 6 White Terrace. 
 
"This was going pretty good," he said. "When I left my home in west Pittsfield, I had heavy smoke showing on West Housatonic Street."
 
Firefighters attacking the blaze also found a tenant out on the east side fire escape who was rescued and taken to Berkshire Medical Center. 
 
All 25 occupants of the dozen apartments in the building were evacuated. Czerwinski said it wasn't clear if the other two buildings had tenants at this time. 
 
Mayor Linda Tyer, speaking to reporters at the scene shortly after 9 p.m., said she did not have details of the blaze she felt comfortable sharing at that point. She did, however, say the residents evacuated were being attended to.
 
"Our first concerns are the residents who have been displaced ... we've brought them down to the Senior Center so they'll be warm and have a place to feel safe and comfortable while we wait for the Red Cross," the mayor said. "We have 24-25 residents, some of them with young children, some of them with pets so there's a little bit of a process."
 
She was not aware of any serious injuries but there was, she said, "a lot of heartache."
 
The Salvation Army was also a the scene to help families displaced by the fire. People also brought pet carriers and food to help with the animals taken from the building. 
 
North Street was closed to all vehicle traffic from Linden Street to Wahconah Street as firefighters battled the blaze. 
 
Czerwinski said the cause is unknown at this point and it was hard to determine where the fire had started because it was burning on two ends and moved quickly through the building.  
 
"The construction of this building was very difficult to work with because there's a lot of void spaces and that's the same trouble we've run into with previous fires," he said. "There are a number of ways for that fire to communicate from floor to floor."
 
The fire chief recalled several times when the department had responded to fires in the grouping of apartment buildings. One about 25 years had also been pretty significant, he said. 
 
The fire attracted a crowd of at least a couple hundred people in the densely settled area. In the crowd on North Street, a number of people were seen being taken away on stretchers as smoke billowed over North Street.
 
Police Chief Michael Wynn said the bystanders had to be pushed back twice and police tape put up to mark off the street and prevent people from getting too close to where the firefighters were working. 
 
Shift officer Lt. Michael Grady had committed the entire shift to the scene was was calling for more patrols officers, Wynn said. Two came in immediately and some came in early from the midnight shift. 
 
"Any critical incident like this is going to tax our resources and we have to call additional personnel in," he said. "Plus, while the critical incident is occurring, they're still trying to answer calls in the city."
 
At one point, the force was down to three available officers and one of those was pulled to do security at the Froio Senior Center, where apartment evacuees were taken.
 
Built around the turn of the last century, the three buildings have gone through a number of renovations over the years. The latest proposal is a nearly $9 million revamping of all three buildings to create 41 market-rate apartments. 
 
Czerwinski said the department was holding the scene for the state fire marshal and police investigators to determine the cause. The department was also looking into whether the fire alarms were activated; the report apparently came in as a phone call. 
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