PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Firefighters are battling a stubborn fire in a four-family home on Tyler Street on Thursday afternoon.
Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said at about 4 p.m. that he expected to be on the scene for at least the next few hours if not all night.
"We've got a very stubborn fire in the attic right now, we're not sure where exactly that fire started," said Czerwinski, an hour or so after the call came in. "It looks like it may have been rolling on the front porch when we arrived and extended up into the attic."
Crews were moving a second aerial truck into the back yard to bring more water to bear on the structure because the truck in the front was having difficulty targeting the area under the dormers where the fire was hottest because of the angle. The area around the dark blue two-story building was filled with smoke and flames could be seen licking from the roofline.
"The building's very unstable, the roof is collapsed. There's a lot of water weight on the floors due to the amount of water we've been putting in there, so were afraid to send people in at this point," the chief said. "We're going to try to continue to knock that down with the aerial devices, defensive operations before we send in a crew to see if there's any more hotspots and everything."
Tyler Street is currently blocked off between at least Plunkett and Parker streets. There are at least seven people who have been forced from their home and the Red Cross and other resources have been notified to assist them.
"We believe everybody is out. We were told everybody was out," the chief said.
Fire crews from Dalton, Lanesborough and Lenox were called in for mutual aid and Hinsdale Fire Department is sending its rehab truck to provide relief for firefighters at the scene.
The building at 662 Tyler St. is owned by Ronald Marcella Jr. and across the street from the former St. Mary's Church.
"When our first crews arrived ... Engine 1 from out on Dalton Avenue said from Dunkin' Donuts he had heavy smoke showing and then he pulled up, he said, and had fire blowing across all the front porches," Czerwinski said. "We're just at a standstill right now because we can't make an interior access to that attic."
Firefighter ran into trouble when the two nearest fire hydrants they tried to hook into were turned off. Police officers, emergency medical technicians and civilians grabbed hoses and ran down the street with firefighters to the next hydrant 500 feet away.
A new 8-inch water line is being installed to service St. Mary's, which is being renovated into housing. Part of the project included replacing an older hydrant and installing a new one — but both were off at the time because they were being pressure-treated for leaks. The Fire Department is supposed to be notified when a hydrant is out of the service, but that apparently didn't happen.
"We're not sure if the Water Department shut that hydrant down, or if a contractor maybe had shut that hydrant down," the chief said. "But we were not made aware of that. Every morning, we're given a report, a list of what hydrants are out of service and that hydrant didn't come up. Our guys hit it and there was no water — it was empty."
The Water Department arrived on scene later and turned the water back on to those hydrants.
Czerwinski wasn't sure if the proximity of the hydrant was a factor in fighting the blaze because he wasn't on the scene at the time.
"It depends on what the guys found and how much fire they had," the chief said. "They did get another hydrant from the other direction. So they had a water supply relatively quickly. ...
"But it's better if we know if the hydrant is working or it's not working."
The Fire Department runs into water issues frequently, though usually because of frozen hydrants in the winter, Czerwinski said. But crews responded quickly and at least 18 firefighters were there and facing heavy fire on the outside on arrival.
"We don't have any idea on how this may have started yet," he said. "We have investigators here waiting to get into the building to see what they can find out about it."
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