The fire that drove four residents from their apartments in a Washington Street building started in nesting material on the underside of a beam of the building’s exterior, state and local fire officials said Friday.
But the precise reason as to why the material ignited at 91A Washington St. Thursday night remained unclear after an initial joint investigation involving the Gloucester Fire and Police departments, city building and electrical inspectors and the state fire marshal’s office.
According a report by Deputy Chief Miles Schlichte, who served as incident commander at the scene, a man inside the newly-opened Happy Dumplings restaurant noticed a haze of smoke accumulating inside the restaurant and called the fire department at around 7 p.m. Thursday.
The man then saw flames showing along the peak of the roof, and ran to the stairs of the apartment on the right side of the building and alerted the residents that the building was on fire.
“A young woman grabbed her infant from the crib and exited the building unharmed,” Schlichte’s report reads. The owner of the restaurant also directed her employee to run up the stairs to the apartment on the left side of the building to alert the woman who lived there, but that resident was not home at the time.”
There were no reports of any serious injuries from the fire, which caused an estimated $25,000 to $50,000 damage to the three-story, mixed-use building valued at $297,000, according to the city assessments.
“Prompt notification, a short response time and very aggressive firefighting prevented this fire from being much worse,” Schlichte said in his report.
The Happy Dumplings occupies the first floor with the apartments upstairs; the building is just north of the Prospect Street intersection, adjacent to Ed’s Mini-Mart. Perishable foods from the restaurant were removed from the restaurant and taken to Ed’s next door, where the owner provided refrigerator space, Schlichte’s report indicated.
First responders to the fire reported heavy smoke and a “working fire,” and flames could be seen from the outside within the eaves and roof of the building.
“The crews were greatly delayed in getting to the seat of the fire by obstructions within the building and limited access to the section of the roof on fire,” Schlichte’s report indicates. “Due to this delay, and rapidly spreading fire, a second alarm was struck by the incident commander, who had taken command upon arrival shortly after the (headquarters) crews.”
The GFD also drew in mutual aid assistance from departments in Rockport, Manchester, Essex, Ipswich and Hamilton, with Rockport, Essex and Manchester’s ladder truck responding to the scene and their crews covering the Gloucester stations.
The early investigation into the cause of the blaze, according to Schlichte’s report, found that the fire started “in the soffit on the exterior of the building.” A soffit is defined as the underside of a beam, arch or stair.
“The material that caught fire initially before spreading to the building is believed to have been nesting material from either birds or squirrels,” the report reads. “It is unknown what the source of the ignition was. Further investigation is ongoing”.
Electricity to the building was cut and the building secured by a board up company prior to the FD clearing the scene and turning the building over to its owners.
All four residents of the building were staying with family members Thursday night and Friday.