Kitchen Fire Forces 18 to Evacuate North Adams Building
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — An early morning fire forced the evacuation of about 18 people from a boarding house on Union Street.
The fire started in a back common kitchen on the top floor about 2 a.m. and spread up through a vent. It took almost two hours to ensure it was it completely out.
Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said the department was familiar with the building and has responded to burnt food in the past.
"This time it extend up into the exhaust fan got up into the area above the ceiling, it followed the ductwork," he said. "It was burning on top of the stove — that set the sprinklers off — but it was also burning above the ceiling."
Some occupants of the building at 174-178 Union St. were coming out as firefighters were going in and they assisted the rest in exiting the building. More than a dozen people, some wrapped in blankets passed out by Northern Berkshire EMS, watched firefighters tackled the stubborn blaze.
Smoke was coming out of the top of the 1910 three-story building when first-responders arrived on the scene. It billowed out of the open porch in the back connecting the structure to 8 Rand St. and out the front eaves.
An all call was sent out to bring in all three shifts. Northern Berkshire EMS and Wire & Alarm also responded along with Berkshire Gas and National Grid.
"The guys did a great job knocking it down in real, real smoky conditions," Meranti said. "The did a really good job."
The structure suffered significant smoke and water damage as well as some structural damage. Meranti thought the entire upper floor would have to be gutted.
"Right now we're trying to save the utilities because that building in the back is fed from this building in the front," he said. "The owner has contractors here for gas and electricity. They're trying to salvage the utilities over here to keep that building (8 Rand) up and running."
The electrical and sprinkler lines run through both buildings so have to be capped or shunted so the Rand Street building would not have to be closed. It also has about 20 rooms with common areas.
Those who had to evacuate were taken by Northern Berkshire Transport to First Baptist Church where the Rev. David Anderson was working to get them a place stay for the night.
Both buildings are owned by Union Rand Nominee Trust, part of the Ransford Properties portfolio.
The structure is also the home of the popular Linda's Cafe, which had closed earlier in the week because of the emergency orders related to the novel coronavirus..
North Adams First Responders Extricate Injured Girl From Ravine
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — First responders rescued a teenager who fell and apparently broke her ankle or leg in the ravine behind Brayton Hill Apartments.
The initial call came in shortly after 4 p.m. on Wednesday of a girl who had fallen on the slope behind the apartment complex and could not be reached. The police, firefighters and ambulance personnel responded to the scene and shift Delta was called in to cover the fire station while two trucks were out.
Fire Lt. Michael Sherman said there were muddy and wet conditions on the banking down toward the river. Because of the conditions, the first-responders used a litter basket and line to reach the girl and bring her up the banking.
She had reportedly been about 50 yards down the hill and near the Hoosic River.
Sherman could only confirm an injury to her leg but that she was alert and responsive; scanner reports indicated a possible break or fracture.
She was taken by Northern Berkshire EMS to the satellite emergency facility for treatment.
Sherman said the Fire Department trains regularly on these kinds of rescue extractions and that the rescue litter was the safest way for the girl and for the first responders.
"Our mule that we've used multiple times does a phenomenal job and we were able to bring her up safely from below," he said, adding that some of them firefighters are trained in technical rescue. "This falls right into our training. So it just works out well. It's nice when you can actually use something that you're trained for."
The lieutenant complimented the teamwork of the firefighters and other first responders who assisted in the rescue.
Fire Destroys North Street Home in North Adams
Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said the call came in at 5:12 a.m. for a possible structure fire, which was confirmed by police reaching the scene. Northern Berkshire EMS personnel said they had headed up from the department's headquarters on Harris Street on hearing the call and found the structure fully involved with flames coming through the roof.
It was believed that all occupants had gotten out or were not in the building when the fire consumed the top floor and attic. Meranti said one occupant, who apparently was able to flee safely with her dog, was confirmed safe. There was only one other possible resident authorities were aware of.
"It started on the upper levels and it was through the roof when we got here," Meranti said. "We did a quick search of the lower level and started a defensive operation, then moved to an interior operation."
The fire was an all-call with all equipment and firefighters at the scene. Clarksburg Volunteer Fire Department sent its airpack truck and the Department of Public Works sent a truck to sand the steep street to prevent ice buildup as firefighters attacked the blaze with hoses.
By 6:20, the fire was largely out but firefighters were still using hoses and axes on what was left of the second floor and attic to put out smaller fires.
"The roof fell in and kind of buries everything so we have to pull through all of it to find the hot spots," the chief said.
Smoke was still rising from the blackened top floor and the roof was completely gone.
Meranti said the cause was unknown at this point but the fire marshal had been called in to help with the investigation.
"It got into the attic very quickly if it didn't start there," he said. "Before the occupant even knew it, it was well involved."
The city's Wire & Alarm had also responded to the scene and National Grid and Berkshire Gas arrived to disconnect the utilities. North Street was blocked off between Williams and Cady streets. The Fire Department cleared the scene at about 9 a.m. but Truck 5 stayed on scene for fire watch.
The house sits at 66-68 Cady St. on a rise on the north corner of the intersection with North. The 10-room, 1870 structure is owned by Edward M. Rich, according to documents on file with the assessor's office.
The fire made dramatic early morning dawn for residents on North Street. Nicholas Mantello, the Fire Department's official photographer, said he could see the glow from his home about a block away. City Councilor Keith Bona, who lives a few doors down on North Street, posted about 5:30 a.m. showing flames bursting from the roof and second-floor windows.
Firefighters dealt with temperatures in the upper teens battling the blaze.
"The guys did a great job. We had to contend with icing on the roadway but the DPW is here to put some sand down, and Northern Berkshire EMS is on scene providing rehab for the firefighters," the chief said. "We had a good team working tonight."
Man Sentenced to Life for Murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The murderer of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien will spend life in prison.
Mark Steele-Knudslien, 49, pleaded guilty on Thursday in Berkshire Superior Court to second-degree murder in the death of his wife. Judge John Agostini sentenced him to life in state prison, with parole eligibility in 25 years.
Steele-Knudslien had killed Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, his wife of less than a year, on the evening of Jan. 4, 2018, in their North Adams home by stabbing her and striking her with a hammer.
"I send my heartfelt condolences to those who loved Christa dearly and the entire transgender community who looked up to her as a leader," said District Attorney Andrea Harrington. "This is yet another horrific domestic violence homicide in the Berkshires. My office focuses on holding perpetrators of these crimes accountable and this sentence will keep a very dangerous person away from the community for years to come."
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was well known in the transgender community in the region. She was the first transgender person killed in 2018 and her death had helped spark awareness of the vulnerability of transgender people to violence and domestic violence in general.
"I thank the Adams, North Adams, and Massachusetts State Police for their investigation which gave us the evidence we needed to secure this conviction and sentence," Harrington said. "We are holding the perpetrator accountable for his actions."
State Police detectives assigned to the district attorney's office, members of the North Adams and Adams police departments and State Police Crime Scene Services Section conducted the investigation.
No Injuries & Minimal Damage in Mohawk Forest Fire
The call came over the scanner just after noon Friday. Dispatch reported that smoke was seen bellowing out of apartment 34.
"We were right on scene and there was a little light haze of smoke down near the front door," Lt. Brent Lefebvre said. "We went into the building and found just some charring and some embers above the stove in the cabinets. We put it out with a water extinguisher."
Fire Chief Stephen Meranti said the occupant appeared to have left a stove burner on but at the time of the call was not in the apartment. He said heat detectors were triggered along with the internal smoke detectors that rang throughout the building.
An on-duty maintenance man noticed the alarm, entered the apartment, took the pan off the stove and doused the fire with some water, the chief said.
Although he was successful in containing the fire to just the kitchen and had it largely extingured before the trucks arrived, Meranti said the department never recommends that anyone ever enter a possible burning building.
"The guy did a good job and by doing that did contain it to that area but putting yourself in that situation without protection — we do not recommend it," he said.
Meranti said people should call 911 and only direct firefighters toward a blaze.
Lefebvre said firefighters checked to see if the fire spread through the walls but determined the damage was really concentrated near the stove.
Meranti said the occupant will stay with family until the damage is repaired by Mohawk Forest staff. There was a dog in the apartment that was rescued.
North Adams Police and the Wire and Alarm Division, and Northern Berkshire EMS were on scene.