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30 Displaced by Fire

February 6, 2019
Thirty people were displaced after a fire ripped though a multi-unit building Monday night in Townsend. Here's some of the damage to the top floors. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JOHN LOVE Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

By Scott Shurtleff

sshurtleff@nashobavalleyvoice.com

TOWNSEND -- “Undetermined, but not suspicious cause,” is how Fire Chief Mark Boynton described the findings of the state fire marshal’s investigation into Monday night’s apartment fire that left 30 people displaced.

The fire, believed to have started in a first-floor bathroom, spread quickly to all floors.

Flames shot dramatically from the roof and upper-story windows.

The blaze, which tore through the 180,000 square foot, three-story, brick building at 48 Fitchburg Road, was reported to the fire station, which is less than a quarter of a mile away, shortly before 8 p.m.

The building is one of five in the Pine Ridge Estate condominium complex that spans 20 acres.

Twenty-one of the 24 units inside number 48 were occupied and all residents and most of the family pets got out safely.

“Thank God the fire alarm system was working perfectly,” said Boynton, adding that the building had just received its annual inspection last week. “If it happened at a different time, say 2 in the morning, there might be a different story.”

He confirmed that two residents, who were initially unaccounted for, have been located.

About 100 firefighters from several neighboring communities, including Fitchburg, Lunenburg, Shirley, Groton and several departments from New Hampshire, battled the blaze for more than four hours. They were hampered by an inconsistent water supply.

“The town water system couldn’t keep up so we had to run a line from the Squannacook (River),” said Boynton.

Almost immediately, Rev. Jeremy St. Martin, of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, offered the parish as a shelter for the residents and as an operation center for TEMA/TEO, the town’s emergency response unit made up of volunteers.

Eleven families, totaling 18 people, spent Monday night inside the makeshift shelter, where the community brought donations of clothing, food and other items. Most of the displaced had found accommodations by day’s end Tuesday, either with friends at local hotels, with funding provided by the town and the American Red Cross.

“We lost everything,” said Mario Figueroa, a third-floor resident who first smelled the smoke before alerting neighbors.

“I was in the shower and smelled smoke through the vent,” he said. “My wife was cooking in the kitchen so I asked if she was burning something.”

When his wife said she did not, he went outside his unit.

“I saw a lot of smoke in the hallway and started knocking on doors. A few minutes later the fire alarms started going off,” he said.

He, along with his wife and stepdaughter who lived in another unit in the building, remain at the shelter, where Red Cross personnel and church volunteers offered support.

“We still have our jobs,” a distraught Figueroa added. “But we have no place to stay.”

At the fire site, first responders entered the ruined building in search of pets who may have perished, although Boynton says that more than a dozen were saved. Ana Ventura held in her hand a small stack of water-logged passports and personal documents, all that was left of unit 131.

The building was deemed a complete loss by Boynton and Ziad Ramadan, president of the Pine Ridge Investors, LLC, who own about 100 of the 120 units. After clearance from insurance adjusters, Ramadan allowed residents back into the building to search through the rubble for keepsakes and valuables that may have been spared from the inferno, which took more than a dozen departments to extinguish.

The command center is still in the church and volunteer Kim Bailey said that the community has been outstanding in its support of their neighbors.

Even before the implementation of a Go-FundMe page, donations poured in. Bailey urged residents not to send fresh food and instead posted a list of badly needed items, including gift cards and specific items of attire.

The list is available on the Townsend Police Department’s home page. A hotline has been established to streamline inquiries for donors and family members: 978-597-2874.

Bailey is working with other town officials, clergy and Red Cross members to help find immediate seven-day or 30-day accommodations for victims who do have friends or family to stay with.

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