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North Adams Fire Damages Central Avenue Duplex

By Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff
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Fire Lt. Matt Labonte explains how the fire was caught in the ceiling. Behind him are strips from the tin ceiling that were pulled down.
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A motorcycle is pushed away from the house to prevent it being damaged.
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Firefighters use a chainsaw to to open the ceiling between floors.
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A joist and flooring were burned away by the fire, which festered in the ceiling.
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National Grid and the city's Wire & Alarm survey the damage.
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Charred floorboards and where the fire burned through.
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The fire began in this area; the opening looks into the other side of the duplex.
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A fire in the walls at 54-56 Central Ave. took time to find and extinguish.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Firefighters spent close to two hours tracking down and extinguishing a stubborn fire within the walls of a Central Avenue duplex on Tuesday afternoon.

The blaze started on the backside of the building, between the first and second floors, and sent smoke pouring from windows and eaves of the circa-1900 home. It was called in around 2 p.m.

"It looks like it started in the wall between the two apartments or around the wall between the two apartments," Fire Director Stephen Meranti said. "It got into the ceiling and it went both ways into both apartments."

Firefighters pulled out windows to vent the building and used a chainsaw to cut through the back wall just above the enclosed entryways in the back of 54-56 Central.

"They had quite a bit of smoke and heat on the second floor," Meranti said. "We didn't discover fire until we got into the back wall on the second floor."

The ceiling structure was open between the two halves of the house and the fire made its way above the kitchens.

Acting Fire Lt. Matt Labonte stood in the charred kitchen at 54 Central explained how the fire started on the 56 Central side and burned its way across the ceiling to the other.

"You can see how hot it was in here. We had to do a forced entry," he said. "We got in and we pulled down this tin ceiling right here. That fire was just engulfed in that room. It burned right in that whole ceiling."

There was a fire stop on the exterior wall that prevented the fire from going up through that wall but Labonte thought the tin ceiling was what allowed the blaze to fester and burn through the floor. The joists were gone and a hole opened above the kitchen; on the other side, the wall was burned through to 56 Central.

Meranti said there wasn't a fire stop on the exterior of 56 and the fire made its way up through the wall into the second floor and the attic.

The stairs to the upper floors were in the front of the house and it was difficult for firefighters to navigate their way with hoses up to the second floor. "It wasn't much fire in the attic but it took us a long time to vent the smoke," Meranti said.

The building incurred water, smoke, fire and structural damage. The cause is still under investigation and a fire watch was expected to go through the night to ensure it did not reignite. The property is listed as owned by George Morse III and is managed by Moresi & Associates, which had staff on hand to survey the damage and seal the building.

Only one side of the building was in use and it was believed the occupant was not in the house when the fire was discovered. Rescuers were able to get in to remove pets and the tenant reportedly took one of the dogs to the veterinarian to be checked out.

Central Avenue was blocked off for most of the afternoon. C shift was called in to cover the station and North Adams Ambulance, local and state police, and Clarksburg Fire Department's Rescue 5 responded to the scene.

A Gofundme has been set up to help the tenant, Juli Taylor and her children, who lost most of their belongings in the fire.

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