Pittsfield firefighters use hoses to knock down a quick-moving fire at 237 Columbus Ave. in Pittsfield on Tuesday. The fire, which started when the
Pittsfield firefighters use hoses to knock down a quick-moving fire at 237 Columbus Ave. in Pittsfield on Tuesday. The fire, which started when the home’s owner was testing electricity, quickly spread up the building’s asphalt exterior, described as ‘gasoline siding.’ (Josh Stilts / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

PITTSFIELD -- A man suffered minor burns to his face after fire spread quickly through his Columbus Avenue home on Tuesday afternoon.

David Noci, the current owner resident of 237 Columbus Ave., said he was testing electricity in the house around 1:20 p.m. When he stepped outside, he saw the gasoline-powered generator was on fire. Flames quickly spread up one side of the building and then into the two-story home.

"I burned my face trying to hose down the fire," Noci said. Though his face was red as if it had been sunburned, he did not seek medical attention.

Firefighters immediately responded to the two-alarm fire at Noci's residence, Pittsfield Fire Chief Czerwinski said. All 19 firefighters who were on duty on Tuesday were called to the scene.

"We could see the flames and smoke from the fire station just down the street," Czerwinski said.

The official cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the asphalt siding of the building -- molded to look like brick -- is what caused the flames to spread so quickly, Czerwinski said.

"We call it ‘gasoline siding,' " he said. "It's an old siding similar to the asphalt shingles you put on the roof. There are a lot of houses in Berkshire County that still have asphalt siding.

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The home was built in 1850 and is valued for tax purposes at $5,900, according to city records. Czerwinski said he responded to a similar fire at the building about eight years ago when the house was vacant.

There was also minor damage to the building next door, 231 Columbus Ave., the former Teti's Luncheonette building, a dispatcher said.

Thick black smoke from the fire was clearly visible through most of downtown Pittsfield on Tuesday afternoon. It took firefighters about 10 minutes to extinguish the flames, Czerwinski said. However, crews continued working to ensure that hot spots in the attic and basement also were put out. Traffic was directed away from Columbus Avenue while crews worked.

People were watching the rising black smoke from at least as far as McKay Street. Cynthia Gelpi was one of several people of nearby Circular Avenue who were watching firefighters work on the west side of the building.

"We looked out of window and saw all the smoke," Gelpi said.

Some neighbors who came to view the scene up close quickly lent a helping hand to both Noci and his two dogs and a cat.

A firefighter removed one of the cats, a Bengal named Terry, from the home and gave him to Tara Jones, Noci's neighbor from down the street. Terry was clearly shaken while Jones wrapped him tightly in a blanket and cradled him in her arms.

"This is what you do when you're neighbors," Jones said, "you come out and make sure everyone's OK."

Neighbors also kept watched over Noci's two dogs while Noci spoke with firemen and watched firefighters tend to his destroyed home.

He said that he was still missing an orange cat. Gelpi and other witnesses said they saw an orange cat jump from the gutted second-story window before scurrying away.

"I'm an animal person," Gelpi said, holding back tears. "I hope it's OK."

Noci said he was testing the electricity in his house since it was scheduled to be shut off while city crews did underground work to fix a utility pole. Noci planned to sleep in his car with his three pets. Neighbors offered him their garages to store his things, Noci said.

To reach Adam Poulisse:
apoulisse@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6214.
On Twitter: @BE_Poulisse