The shrill sounds of a smoke alarm ringing in her ears, Andrea Pretzler flung open the back door, trying to clear the air and quiet the alarm.
Then an overhead window shattered, sending smoke billowing into the afternoon air. The floor above her was on fire.
Early Monday afternoon, the top floor of the house at 31 Cleveland St. caught fire, with smoke pouring from the windows.
Deputy Fire Chief Steven Aiello says an electrical short circuit may have started the fire. The Fire Department, he says, believes the fire started accidentally.
Pretzler, head of the Gloucester teachers union, lives with her boyfriend John Tarantino in the first floor the house at 31 Cleveland St. The second-floor tenant, Aiello said, wasn't home at the time.
The tenant, Ted Hawks, was at work when his apartment went up in smoke, Pretzler said. She said she and Tarantino heard their smoke alarms blaring around noon, right after she put something in the oven.
Tarantino said he thought that triggered the alarms. But the noise didn't stop after they opened up a few windows.
"(I opened) the back door when I saw the (upstairs) window break," said Pretzler. "Smoke came out and I called 911."
Firefighters arrived soon after, said Aiello, who served as commanding officer at the scene.
No one suffered major injuries in the Monday afternoon fire save a pair of cats.
Firefighters pulled Hawks' two cats from his apartment. Both suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning but paramedics, using a cat-sized oxygen mask, resuscitated them. Hawks reportedly took both cats to his veterinarian in Ipswich.
The blaze started in Hawks' second-floor apartment. The heat and flames within the top floor forced firefighters onto the roof, Aiello said. They tore holes in the roof and knocked in the skylight to vent the attic and second floor before taking hoses to the fire.
"It was knocked down on the second floor pretty quickly," Aiello said.
Half an hour later firefighters quelled the blaze, and they started pulling down the attic and second=floor ceilings.
Blown-in insulation, essentially paper and fiberglass blowing inside the house frame, made putting out the fire's remnants difficult, said Aiello.
As of late Monday, all three tenants were without a home. Aiello said the Red Cross provided temporary housing for Hawks, and Pretzler and Tarantino will stay with family.
The first floor, he said, was damaged by the water used in fighting the fire, but Pretzler and Tarantino will be able to return once that's taken care of, Aiello said. The top floor, he added, will need remodeling, and it will be a few months, at least, before Hawks could return to it.
Hawks, who works at Varian Semiconductor Equipment Associates on Dory Road, according to Pretzler and Aiello, couldn't be reached for comment, nor could the building's owner, Roy Spittle, the founder of Roy Spittle Associates, a local electrical contractor.
The fire is not the first on that block of Cleveland Street. Last year, 35 Cleveland St. caught fire, and in years past, Aiello said 29 and 44 Cleveland have had fires as well.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.