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Sue Bush
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Fire Ravaged Building A Total Loss

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Morning light illuminates some of the fire damage at a three-story, six-apartment house at the corner of Spring Street and Washington Avenue.
North Adams - A six-apartment, three-story building at the corner of Washington Avenue and Spring Street was destroyed during an early morning Feb. 1 fire and is very likely a total loss, according to city fire department officials and building owner Charles Swabey.

Tenants Displaced

Speaking from the fire scene, Swabey estimated that nearly 30 people are displaced because of the fire. He said that he is attempting to relocate some tenants into other buildings that he owns, but added one challenge is that many of the burned-out building occupants were large families living in four-bedroom units.

Some of the tenants were renting under Section 8 housing subsidies, and Swabey said that he is working with city Housing Authority officials about securing new housing for the now-homeless tenants. His wife was compiling a list of area property owners and planned to seek assistance from that group as well, Swabey said.

Swabey bought the building a few years ago for $160,000 and invested some revenues on modest renovations, he said. Swabey said he believes the building was worth $190,000-$200,000. The structure is insured.

"These People Lost Everything"

As he perused piles of burned debris, numerous broken windows, and scorched brick, Swabey said that the fire underscored the importance of renter's insurance. Most renter coverage can be acquired for about $200 yearly, he said.

"The key message to get out to people is please, get some renter's insurance," he said. "These people lost thousands of dollars [in possessions and personal property] in the fire. I know I lost a building but these people lost everything."

Many of the displaced families were moved to the Holiday Inn during the morning. American Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers were at the fire scene, city Fire Director Stephen Meranti said.

Fire Alarm System In Place


City firefighters Greg Lancto and David Boucher were among city firefighters who remained at the fire scene after the flames were extinguished.
The building had a working fire alarm system and Meranti credited the alarm system for alerting building occupants and very likely the reason that no one sustained injury and no lives were lost. The fire was reported at about 12:45 a.m., a time when most people are in bed and probably sleeping. Meranti said that a building tenant tried to extinguish the blaze but could not stop the fire.

"We are tremendously thankful for the functioning fire alarm system," Meranti said. "The alarm system delivered the notification that there was a problem and people got out."

The three-alarm blaze pulled in all city firefighters as well as firefighters and equipment from the Adams, Clarksburg, and Williamstown fire departments, Meranti said, and offered praise to all the firefighters who battled the fierce fire.

"These guys did a great job," Meranti said. "With the amount of fire we had here, I say they did a wonderful job. It's very significant that they were able to save the adajcent building."

Flames From Floor to Floor

The fire started on the second floor in a living room space, Meranti said, and added that a precise fire cause is under investigation. The flames moved rapidly to the third floor and then erupted in a space between the attic and the roof, Meranti said.

The first city firefighters at the scene were led by acting Lt. Michael Roberts. Firefighters entered the building and attempted to attack the fire from the inside but flames and smoke forced firefighters outside.

"Once they made the interior attack, they found the fire was fully extended," Meranti said. "They had to fight this from the exterior."

Several ceilings collapsed because of the weight of water being poured onto the flames and an exterior facade sustained partial collpase, Meranti said. National Grid electric power crews were contacted and cut electrical power to the building.

The building has been deemed structurally unsafe.

In addition to city fire trucks and equipment, a ladder truck and an "air truck," used to refill firefighter oxygen supply tanks, were brought to the scene by the Adams fire department. A "tower," which is a truck equipped with a ladder and a bucket, was brought by Williamstown firefighters.

Burned debris covered the burned building's front area.


The building utilized a common stairway and interior, hallway-facing windows existed along the building levels, Meranti said. That design set the stage for a possible "chimney effect," which may have played a role in spreading the flames, he said.

City firefighters remained at the fire scene during most of the day. City Wire and Alarm Division officials were also at the scene during the morning. City police and North Adams Ambulance Service emergency medical technicians were also at the scene.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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