Off-duty firefighter Phil Harvey and Gloucester resident Sheldon Knowles kicked in the side door of 2 Ashland Place as smoke and flame poured from the house Monday afternoon.
The two rushed into the right side of the house, filled with smoke. Knowles ran upstairs, yelling for anyone in the building as Harvey rushed through the downstairs.
Knowles said he heard Harvey yell for him to get out of the building as electrical lines near the house snapped and fell to the ground. He said he heard a propane tank explode after that, and flames engulfed the front of the house.
"The left side was so involved in flames, we couldn't go near it," Knowles said.
Firefighters from Gloucester and Cape Ann towns battled the two-alarm the blaze at 2 Ashland Ave. for more than three hours Monday.
Gloucester firefighters, led by Acting Chief Robert Dipoli, wearing his Rockland firefighting uniform, responded at 2:15 p.m. And Deputy Fire Chief Steve Aiello said that when the engines pulled up he saw fire engulfing the front porch on the left side of the house.
The house, built in 1900, and assessed at $418,000, was destroyed in the blaze, but there were no reports of any injuries.
Knowles was driving behind Harvey on Washington Street and caught the smoke out of the corner of his eye. They raced to the house and forced open the side door before firefighters arrived. His dad was a firefighter in Rockport, and Knowles said he knew what to look for. While he isn't a firefighter, Knowles said he ran in because he thought someone might have been in there.
Steven Cardone Jr., 17, got out before Harvey kicked in the side door. Cardone was in his room upstairs in the right side of the house, getting ready for work a little after 2 p.m. He said he heard a few bangs outside and smelled some smoke, but he thought people were working on the telephone poles down the street. Then he saw the door.
"I came downstairs and the front door was raging on fire," said Cardone.
Cardone saw smoke and fire outside and he said he ran upstairs, grabbed the family dogs, Bella and Monty, and sprinted out the back door. Cardone was the only one in the house when the fire started.
His father, Steven Cardone Sr., was at work in Wakefield when his wife called him, saying the house was on fire. His family lives in one side of the building, and his sister Marianne Cardone — who owns the house — lives in the other. All were staying with other family members Monday night.
Arriving firefighters tried to work their way inside the house checking for anyone inside. They fought the fire indoors, but after 10 or 15 minutes, Aiello said heat in the house got too intense even for them. They pulled out and found that the younger Cardone had gotten out without a scratch.
"All escaped uninjured," he said.
Aiello said they received multiple calls from neighbors about the fire and ensuing explosion. They responded, said on-scene safety officer and union president Phil Bouchie, within four minutes after the first call, arriving at 2:18 p.m.
Gloucester called a second alarm for the fire almost as soon as they arrived and almost all of Gloucester's engines, assisted by firefighters from Rockport and Essex, spilled hoses down Ashland Place and across Washington Street. Police closed Washington Street at Grant Circle and right after Poplar Street to traffic, leaving the section as a staging ground for fire engines, police cruisers, ambulances and several vehicles from Beauport Ambulance. Gloucester called in Rockport, Essex, Manchester and Hamilton Fire Departments, Hamilton and Manchester covered the station.
Bouchie said fire officials had not yet determined any cause for the blaze as of Monday night.
Smoke obscured the house as Ladder 1's master stream pounded away at the roof of the grey, two-family home. Firefighters placed deck guns — massive nozzles — around the house and pelted the side with water and fire suppressing foam for well over an hour before they could continue the fight inside the house.
A stream stopped briefly after one of the residents asked Aiello if firefighters got her rabbit out of the house. Aiello walked into the building, and pulled the rabbit cage as the water bottle was starting to melt, from the building. Bystanders offered what help to the family they could as well.
Steven Cardone Sr., who works for MCR Technologies, was on a tech support call with a client in Wakefield. When he got the call from his wife, Laura, he handed the phone to a co-worker and drove back up Route 128 to Gloucester.
His heart, he said, was in his throat the entire 30-minute drive. He said he didn't know who was in the house, or if anyone made it out.
"I was bouncing into walls on the way out," Cardone said. "I didn't know what to think."
After pounding the structure with hoses and master streams for an hour, DiPoli and firefighters from Gloucester, Rockport and Essex, armed with pry bars, hoses and axes, took the fight inside.
The elder Cardone stood against a stone wall across the street, opposite Ladder 1 as the firefighters headed inside. He said the family will have to rebuild, but they have a lot of family in the area as well.
He said he renovated the right side of the home five years ago, and just started on the other side. While he lost a lot of work — and the house — he said he's just glad everyone is all right.
"We were out there (the pool in front of the porch) all weekend," Cardone said, "If this happened then, I don't know what would have happened."
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.