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Neighbors and apartment residents say Orchard Street building was a 'ball of flame'

Picture of the burned property at 91-93 Orchard Street

The scene of a multi-unit property at 91-93 Orchard St., where a fire raged Monday night. No injuries were reported.

It was around 9:30 p.m. Monday when Richard Kalinowski, a resident at 91-93 Orchard St., heard people yelling outside his door.

He had gotten home from a cookout for the July 4 holiday shortly before and settled in to watch TV. He ignored the voices at first, assuming it was a spillover from a rowdy fireworks display down the street.

But when the yelling got more intense, he knew he had to check it out. He went to his front door and opened it — and saw what the commotion was about. Smoke rushed into his home and into his face, and his first instinct was to get out.

The building, his home of three years, was on fire.

Pittsfield firefighters were soon on the scene of a blaze that erupted late Monday in a three-unit apartment building, as Kalinowski captured the captured on video.

Flames were bursting out of the building when firefighters and police arrived just after 10 p.m.

Kalinowski described scene as “chaos.” Within minutes, firefighters were battling the blaze, which was quickly spreading throughout the building. People around the street were shouting, asking about other residents of the building.

A family upstairs had recently moved out, and residents in the other downstairs unit had gotten out of the building safely, Kalinowski said. No injuries were reported as a result of the fire.

Mary Streeter, a neighbor, said the street was lined with fire engines most of the night. Jaimie Kalinowski, Kalinowski’s daughter, who arrived at the scene about 15 minutes after the fire started, said they were at the smoldering property until about 3:30 a.m.

For Richard Kalinowski, the name of the game now is salvaging what he can — and moving on.

“It sucks,” Kalinowski said. “All my [stuff] got ruined … I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do now.”

Streeter said the night’s events brought a lot of attention to the neighborhood the following day.

“This street’s a tourist attraction now,” she said. “We’ve seen more cars today than we ever did before … what’s the excitement?”

One of the people Kalinowski may have heard yelling outside his door was Nick Mullen, a neighbor who ran to the fire when he heard there might be children inside. Mullen, along with another bystander, went to the scene and began smashing windows and grabbing clothes from inside the apartment that was burning, trying to save what they could from the flames.

While heading to the fire, the department was told there might be children in the building, according to a statement. Searches did not find anyone inside, the department said.

Shortly after arriving, Mullen said the front of the house turned into a “ball of flame,” sending both him and the other bystander back.

“I got there and I was thinking, ‘this is stupid and it’s gonna hurt,’” Mullen said.

He was right — Mullen’s arm got singed during the blaze, and part of his sweatshirt burned. Mullen said the other man who was with him was burned.

Mullen said he couldn’t knock down the back door of the property with the other man to get inside and try to help anyone who might be inside. The lower level of the property had windows boarded up and a heavily secured back door, which firefighters had difficulty breaching. Mullen said they were “cursing and banging” trying to knock it down.

Although they didn’t end up grabbing anyone out of the fire directly, Mullen believes the yelling may have helped to get people out of the property.

On the cellphone video he shot, Kalinowski can be heard speaking with a Pittsfield police officer.

“Hey, I live in there. There’s no one upstairs. There’s no one in the bottom apartment,” Kalinowski says on the recording. “But the people that live next door, that’s where the fire started.”

The building suffered considerable damage but was deemed to be “salvageable,” the department said in a statement Tuesday morning.

One apartment saw fire, smoke and water damage. Two other apartments had smoke damage.

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

The Red Cross is providing temporary housing for the building’s residents, according to the department. The response was led by Deputy Chief Daniel Garner.

Matt Martinez can be reached at mmartinez@berkshireeagle.com. Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and

413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

News Reporter

Matt Martinez is a news reporter at The Berkshire Eagle. He worked at Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, graduated Marquette University. He is a former Report for America corps member.

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