The cause of the four-alarm fire Sunday night at a two-story, six-unit apartment building at 694 main St. (Route 12) may never be known, but besides building damage, two firetrucks were put out of service after a driver who ran a roadblock at the scene plowed into them.
Fire Chief Sheri Bemis said the fire might have been caused by a heat lamp intended for a reptile, but investigators may not be able to determine the cause definitively because the building was totally destroyed. The fire does not appear to be suspicious, she said.
"It's being torn down as we speak," Chief Bemis said. She said fire investigators believe the fire may have started in the living room of a first-floor apartment.
As if the fire did not cause enough commotion in the neighborhood, authorities also had to contend with slippery and icy conditions - and an out-of-control driver trying to elude police.
"This gentleman almost killed a half-dozen firefighters," Chief Bemis said. She said a man who was stopped at a nearby roadblock decided to bust through and drive through the fire scene. Officers were able to get his license tag number.
"He barreled through the middle of the scene," Chief Bemis said.
The man, whom police have not identified, crashed his vehicle into the aerial ladder truck and an outrigger truck, damaging both. Both trucks are currently out of service. The unidentified driver also ran over firefighters' breathing apparatus, which was lying in the street.
The burning apartment building was at a corner of Cherdon Lane.
"He catapulted out of his car at the dead-end into the woods off Cherdon Lane," Chief Bemis said. Police began a search with K-9s and eventually tracked him down.
Firefighters said all of the building's occupants got out safely, though Chief Bemis said there were initial reports that a man was trapped in a second-floor apartment. The man was able to get out of the building on his own.
A resident called to report smoke in the apartment about 9 Sunday night.
Chief Bemis said firefighters thought they could save the building, but they had to be evacuated about 10:45 p.m.
"We gave it our best shot," Chief Bemis said. She said the apartment had undergone renovations over the years. "It was a maze inside. It just got too dangerous."
She said the brick building had been sided some time ago. There were four levels of ceiling in one of the rooms. Chief Bemis said that because of the extensive renovations, firefighters had problems breaching walls and cutting holes for venting the fire.
"It was literally 45 seconds later (after firefighters were ordered out), it was fully involved," Chief Bemis said.
Firefighters from Charlton, Auburn, Webster and Leicester helped the Oxford department. Douglas supplied an ambulance and firefighters from Sutton and Dudley covered the town's fire stations.
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