NORTH ADAMS -- Ten residents were displaced from their homes on Thursday when a two-alarm fire damaged their four-story apartment building on Furnace Street, authorities said.

No one was injured in the fire at the eight-unit building, which has a total of 20 residents. The cause of the fire is under investigation, although it does not seem suspicious, according to North Adams Fire Director Stephen Meranti.

Amanda Beckwith was at home in her third-floor apartment, directly beneath the unit where the fire surfaced. At first, she noticed a strange sound.

"It sounded like water falling for a few minutes," she said. "Then I started to smell something, so I went outside and saw the smoke. I started screaming for everybody to get out."

Bobbie-Jo Donnelly was baby-sitting on the second floor of the building next door when she went out on the porch and saw the flames on the fourth-story back porch.

"I called 9-1-1 to report it, and 60 seconds later the whole porch was pretty much engulfed," she said. "I started yelling as loud as I could for people to get out of there."

Then she noticed the wind was whipping up the flames and it was heading in the direction of her building, so Donnelly gathered up her young charges, and her two cats, and got everybody out of the building.

"It was very scary," she said.

Donnelly's building was not affected by the fire.

Clarksburg, Adams and Williamstown provided mutual aid, Meranti said. About 40 firefighters were on the scene along with four engines, one ladder truck and an air truck from Clarksburg.

He said the fire was contained to one fourth-story unit, although the blaze did infiltrate the rafters and the roof.

The building inspector said the four units on the north side of the building, in which 10 people reside, could not be reoccupied until repairs are made, but the families living in the south side of the building could return.

The Red Cross was on hand to find temporary housing for the those displaced by the blaze.

North Adams Animal Control rescued "seven or eight cats, some Gecko lizards, some mice and a snake" from the structure.

Meranti noted that this was a difficult fire because it was hard to get hoses into the affected area.

"The guys took a wicked beating on this one," he said. "They had a hard time getting to the fire, but they did a really great job. It absolutely could have been a lot worse."

The building, at 132-146 Furnace St., is perched atop a hill overlooking the city, and when the fire trucks pulled out of the bays, the firefighters could see the smoke coming out of the building, Meranti said.

Charles Swabey, owner of the building, was called to the scene from his Clarksburg home.

He said nobody was working at the structure Thursday. One unit is vacant, and 20 people live there, he added.

"Everyone got out safely," Swabey said. "At the end of the day, that's all that matters."

He said the structure offers beautiful views overlooking the city. It was built in 1890s by the Cantoni family. The grounds featured an orchard at one time, and there was a secret room in the basement where a still was hidden during the prohibition years.

"It has an incredible history," he said.

Swabey said he bought the building for $203.000 in 2003, and since then had updated all the windows and electric panels.

"It would be a shame to lose it," he said. "But it looks like it can be saved."

Beckwith said she likes living there.

"It's OK when it's not on fire," she said.

To reach Scott Stafford:
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