The fire that ravaged a three-family house on Perkins Street late Friday night and into Saturday morning began in a first-floor bedroom and has been deemed accidental, Gloucester fire officials say, but the precise cause of the blaze remains under investigation.
Gloucester Deputy Chief Miles Schlichte said that the smoky, two-alarm fire, which struck at around 10:30 Friday night, drove eight people from their homes. All three units in the 9 Perkins St. building were occupied at the time, but all of the residents escaped safely — including one couple with an infant and another with a 7-year-old grandchild.
Two families were being placed in temporary housing by the Northeast Massachusettts chapter of the American Red Cross – “in this case, (that’s) a hotel stay paid for by our donors,” said Kat Powers, communcations director out of the Red Cross office in Cambridge. The other family is staying with family, Powers added.
The property is owned by Gloucester residents Robert and Chandra Beloff, and they arrived at the fire scene Friday night at around 11 p.m.
“Everyone got out safe, and that’s all that really matters,” Chandra Beloff said at the scene. Robert Beloff was also on the scene Saturday, assisting residents and working along with firefighters to help clear debris.
The Red Cross was providing emergency funds for food and clothing over the weekend, and provided blankets for those at the scene, Powers said. Red Cross volunteers were also handing out “comfort kits,” Powers said, including toiletries and money for baby supplies for the infant.
The fire, on a narrow street that is off Mount Vernon Street above Prospect, posed a number of obstacles for crews, who confined the blaze to the single bulding.
“It’s a tough place to fight a fire,” Schlichte said Saturday – “tough access, a lot of properties on top of each other, a windy night — the guys did a real good job.” The Department of Public Works was also called in around 12:45 a.m. Saturday to bring sand into the area as streets iced up, and firefighters started using chainsaws to clear debris.
“I was really impressed with the firefighters,” said Robert Beloff, who, along with his wife, had just bought the rental property three weeks earlier. “It was cold, it got slippery — (the firefighters) were great, and they did the best they could. But once a fire like that fills up, there’s only so much you can do.”
Firefighters were still battling heavy smoke and flames on the third floor around 11:30 p.m. and were knocking holes in the roof. Fifteen minutes before midnight, the call went out for all firefighters to leave the building and protect nearby buildings from the blaze.
The initial alarm for the fire came in around 10:30, and went to a second alarm shortly before 11 p.m. The incident commander reported heavy smoke on the second floor of the wooden three-story building when firefighters arrived.
“I heard somebody yell ‘call 911,’ so I did,” said Sandra Silva, who lives next door at 11 Perkins St. “When I saw someone run outside with their underwear on, I knew it wasn’t good.”
Rockport and Essex fire departments provided mutual aid, each with a pumper and firefighters at the scene. The Essex engine company acted as the Rapid Intervention Team, a crew of two or more firefighters dedicated solely for the search and rescue of other firefighters in distress if needed. But there were no reports of injuries.
Hamilton firefighters were also in the scene, while Hamilton and Beverly crews also covered Gloucester’s fire stations.
Staff writers Andrea Holbrook and James Niedzinski contributed to this story.