Community rallies for 11 displaced by North Adams fire

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NORTH ADAMS — A day after a raging fire displaced five families from their apartment building, several different organizations pitched in to help them get back on their feet.

The Rev. Dave Anderson, pastor of the First Baptist Church of North Adams and fire department chaplain, is working as a liaison to help victims from Tuesday's fire at 246-248 Houghton St. find emergency housing. He is also coordinating various fundraising campaigns.

"I think we're getting everyone taken care of," he said.

Anderson said that Randy Ransford, owner of the property, has a few vacant apartments where he will try to house at least the families with children "to get them situated as soon as possible."

"There is a good community effort to help these families right now, which is exciting to see," Anderson said.

Stephen Meranti, director of the North Adams Fire Department, expressed gratitude for the support of the other emergency responders and noted that several campaigns have sprung up to raise money to help the displaced victims.

There is at least one online campaign, and at least two local restaurants are seeking donations for the same cause. Goodwill has also offered assistance.

"The community is really standing up for these folks," Meranti said. "It makes me proud."

The fire, which started shortly before 1 p.m., drew in firefighters from all over the Northern Berkshires. North Adams called in all off-duty firefighters, the Clarksburg Fire Department sent an air truck and firefighters to the scene, and an Adams firetruck and personnel responded to other North Adams calls while the Houghton Street fire was under attack.

The Williamstown Fire Department sent over an engine company that acted as a backup rapid intervention team in case anyone became trapped in the fire, Meranti said. In total, there were roughly 40 first responders on scene.

"It started in the third floor front bedroom on the west side of the building," he said. "The call came in just before 1 p.m. and when we arrived the third floor apartment was fully involved from front to back with heavy smoke and fire showing."

He said the occupants tried to extinguish the fire before calling it in. The roof was covered in metal sheeting that allowed the blaze to grow before being visible outside the house, which is why the blaze was so advanced when firefighters got to the scene.

Two firefighters who entered the apartment shortly after arriving "were met with heavy fire and heat conditions," Meranti said. They searched the rest of the building and worked to prevent the fire from spreading beyond the third floor apartment. Meranti said the blaze was largely contained to the third story and the roof, but the entire building suffered heavy smoke and water damage.

A few of the occupants were taken to the hospital to be evaluated for smoke inhalation.

Meranti said the state fire marshal will determine the cause of the blaze, but in his opinion, it appeared to be accidental.

"Our investigators are on the scene right now with local authorities to determine the cause of the fire," said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the office of the state Fire Marshal. "While the investigation is underway, the focus is on an accidental cause."

According to city assessor records, the three-story building dates back to about 1880 and includes six units and 10 bedrooms.

According to information provided by the North Adams Historical Commission, the structure was built by Owen Morris in 1884. A grocery store operated there but closed by 1890.

Later it housed the Houghton branch of the North Adams Public Library for 40 years until it closed in 1976.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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