Tough blaze guts Peabody home
By JILL HARMACINSKI
PEABODY -- A relentless fire blew through a Lynnfield Street colonial yesterday afternoon, burning for close to two hours and destroying a home to 10 people, including three children and a handicapped person.
No injuries were reported in the 2 p.m. blaze, which backed up traffic for hours after police closed down a large section of Lynnfield Street.
Seven adults and three children who lived in the 2 1/2 story, single family home at 129 Lynnfield St. were left homeless by the fire, which likely broke out in the kitchen area, Peabody Fire Chief Steve Pasdon said.
The residents, with help from the North Shore Red Cross chapter, took shelter at the Marriott on Centennial Drive last night.
Firefighters said they were met by intense smoke and flames when they arrived at the 70-year-old home yesterday just after 2 p.m.
"When we got here, the house was fully engulfed," said Peabody Fire Capt. Tom Davis, a 35-year city firefighting veteran.
The fire quickly escalated throughout the entire home, its heat trapped inside by the light blue aluminum siding covering the building.
The home's wood-framed, balloon-style construction easily allowed fire to jet upward through the walls. The blaze bore a massive black hole in the home's roof.
Yesterday's fire, fought in 80-degree heat, destroyed the home, which, according to the city assessor's office, is owned by Earl Wolter. The property is assessed at $299,000, according to city records.
Investigators don't yet know what caused the blaze but believe the fire was burning for 10 to 15 minutes before they arrived. The fire remained under investigation last night by local police and firefighters and state police.
Yesterday afternoon, Davis said the fire escalated rapidly because firefighters "weren't notified sooner."
"Fire moves fast, but not that fast," Davis said. "This fire had been going for a while before we got called."
Neighbors reported hearing popping noises -- like firecrackers being fired off -- before the fire broke out.
"I went to let my dog outside and I heard boom, boom and then I saw flames coming from the back door," said Dorothy Gallant, who lives next door at 127 Lynnfield St. "It sounded like an explosion."
Michael Parker, who lives near the home on Travis Way, smelled smoke and walked outside his house to investigate. Fire was licking at the home's roof, firing off flames at least 10 feet tall, he said.
Beth Brenner was sunbathing at her home on nearby Alexandra Street. She also smelled smoke and when she looked over toward Lynnfield Street she "saw lots of smoke and flames shooting out the windows."
Neighbors said a number of young people lived in the home. Yesterday, a resident of the home, Amanda Orozco, sat crying on the curb across the street from the burning home. Dressed in a green Northeast Nursery polo shirt and khakis, Orozco, 22, spoke briefly with an insurance adjustor but declined comment for this story.
"It's not a good situation," said a young man standing with her.
City census records from 2002 list the names of three people who live in the home; Orozco, Mary Savoie, 37, and Kenneth Wolter, 20.
Neighbors said "numerous" young people in their late teens and early 20s lived in the home, along with a baby and a handicapped man.
Peabody Mayor Michael Bonfanti also arrived at the fire scene yesterday afternoon, briefly speaking with neighbors, patrolmen and firefighters. Bonfanti said "services were in place" to help the fire victims find shelter last night.
Staff reporter Sean Corcoran contributed to this article.
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Thread: Tough blaze guts Peabody home
04-29-2003, 11:20 AM #1
Tough blaze guts Peabody home
04-30-2003, 01:55 PM #2
Residents lost everything in Peabody fire
By SEAN CORCORAN
PEABODY -- Nicole Stokes sat in a car parked outside her former Lynnfield Street home yesterday, looked at the building and placed her head in her hands.
The 19-year-old looked more composed than she had been the day before, when she watched as fire consumed the house she had lived in off and on since she was 6. But she was still shaking, still close to tears.
"It was awful," she said. "It's hard to believe the house we grew up in -- my grandparents' house -- hard to believe it's not here anymore.
"Well," she added after a pause, "not really here."
The 2 1/2 story, single-family building was home to 10 people, most of them relatives, including Stokes' 2-month-old son, and a 20-year-old man with cerebral palsy, residents said. On Monday afternoon, fire destroyed the building, forcing the seven people inside at the time to flee for their lives. Little was left behind but charred wood and blackened aluminum siding.
On the sidewalk near Stokes' feet, 18-year-old Dan Seltser bent over and picked up an uncashed check for about $70 made out to one of the residents. It must have fluttered out of the now-windowless building. He handed it to Stokes. A few minutes later, he also gave her a partially burned toy that had belonged to one of her roommates.
Seltser was the one who first found the fire in the kitchen, he said. A longtime friend of the family, he had been living there for six months. Recently, residents had tried to clean the aging building up a bit. They had plans to fix up the front porch within the next few months, he said, when they could get some money together.
When the fire started, Seltser was upstairs copying CDs.
"I smelled the smoke, and I went down (to the kitchen) and the whole stove was on fire," he said. "I screamed to get everyone out."
Stokes, her baby and three other people were in the front living room at the time, while another person was in the shower.
"We made an effort to find something to put the fire out," he said. "We knew it was grease that was burning, so we looked for baking soda."
But the fire grew too large too quickly, he said. As Stokes handed the phone to one of her friends to call the Fire Department, Seltser ran outside to Lynnfield Street and flagged down an animal control officer who radioed for help.
The Fire Department arrived at the 70-year-old home just after 2 p.m. and found it engulfed in flames, Peabody Fire Capt. Tom Davis said.
The fire was still being investigated yesterday, but Davis said it appeared the blaze did begin in the kitchen where someone may not have been as attentive as they should have been while cooking.
"I don't think we are looking at any wrongdoing, not in the sense that somebody lit it on purpose," he said. "Basically it was an accidental thing."
The building and property was assessed at $299,000, according to city records.
As the building burned, stunned residents and friends huddled together about a hundred yards away, most not even watching as firefighters attempted to extinguish the flames and protect neighboring homes. Stokes cradled her newborn son as he slept.
"He was eating" when the fire started, "so he was passed out by the time we got out," Stokes said.
The child is now staying at her grandmother's house, Stokes said. But the baby's shower was on March 29, and all the gifts and 32 cans of baby formula were destroyed.
"We had everything wiped out," she said, adding that she thinks the building was insured.
Amanda Orozco, 22, said in a phone interview yesterday that she had lived in the building her whole life. She wasn't there when the fire started, but everything she owned was.
"I lost everything I had," she said.
The residents have been given temporary shelter and assistance by the North Shore Red Cross chapter, but Orozco said yesterday she was trying to figure out what to do next -- how to deal with paperwork and perhaps set up a fund for donations.
"I don't know much of anything about how I am supposed to do anything at this point," she said. "We're trying to figure out what is going on with our lives and make out the best we can."
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