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MANCHESTER - A dozen people, including 7 adults and five children, are temporarily homeless after a stubborn, three-alarm fire raged through a 12-unit apartment building at 213 Green St. late Tuesday.
Fire Chief James Burkush, who suffered a cut to his hand, said Tuesday night that firefighters were trying to keep the blaze from spreading to nearby buildings more than two hours after it was reported shortly after 10 p.m.
Firefighters battled the blaze for about four hours and at one point had eight trucks - five elevated and three ground master streams - pouring water on flames at a rate of more than 500 gallons a minute. Initially, emergency workers received reports someone was trapped inside, sending firefighters into the smoky building searching for the resident. No one was located.
Two pets, a cat and dog, remained missing Wednesday morning, according to District Chief Mark Pelletier. He said firefighters tried a second time to get inside the building to extinguish the fire, but the interior attack was aborted after a few minutes because the fire had spread above the third floor ceiling, making it unsafe.
From then on, firefighters focused on an exterior attack and keeping flames from spreading to nearby buildings on the west side.
The fire appeared to have been contained by about 11 p.m., but a second wave of heavy smoke and fire hit the third floor, prompting ladder trucks to move in a second time.
Burkush said the fire did not rekindle.
"No, it was never out," he said.
Burkush said at 11:30 p.m. that he was the only person injured in the fire, "that I know of."
Rafael Cruz said he'd gone out to a store to buy some milk and, when he came back, saw smoke billowing from his apartment, as well as from the first floor and the basement. He said he got his family, including children 2 and 7, out and went back to warn neighbors.
He said he left the building when flames and smoke got stronger and he saw police and firefighters arrive.
"The flames were too much," he said. "I'm still choking, but I'm all right. I'm alive."
Cruz said he moved into the building in November and does not have renter's insurance. He said he has lost everything except a couple of his kids' coats and a blanket.
"I didn't have time to get clothes and other stuff," he said.
The Red Cross assisted displaced residents at the scene. A bus also was brought in by the Manchester Transit Authority to provide shelter from the elements for resident sand firefighters.
Also called to the scene at the height of the fire were PSNH workers to cut power to the burning building, some nearby residences as well as a section of Union Street. Workers also secured a power line that burned away from the building and landed on the sidewalk, creating an additional hazard to personnel.
Icy conditions, created by the thousands of gallons of water, and a light snowfall added to hazardous conditions, according to Pelletier.
He estimated damage at $274,000, plus the contents of the building, because fire spread to all three floors, causing the roof to collapse. The four-unit, 103-year-old apartment building, which carries a second address of 290 Union St., has a barber shop on the ground level and is owned by Gregory Williams.
Pelletier said investigators do not know what caused the fire but believe it started in the basement. An investigator will be back at the scene Wednesday morning to try to figure out what happened but Pelletier said he has a tough task since, when he left about 2:30 a.m. this morning, the basement was filled with water.
It is the city's second fire in two days; fire damaged a vacant home at 305-307 Hanover St. Sunday night. Fire investigators believe squatters may have caused that blaze.