A fast-moving fire that badly damaged a 40-unit apartment building Sunday morning was started by the “careless disposal of smoking materials on an exterior balcony,” fire officials said.
“Firefighters, working under extreme conditions of heat, did an outstanding job containing the fire to the first building,” District Fire Chief Al Poulin said Sunday night. “The building had a brick firewall that helped hold it to that one section.”
Poulin said more than 100 firefighters were called in to assist the 46 that were on-duty.
“They did such a great job, there were no reports of injuries to any of the residents of the building or to the
firefighters involved,” Poulin said of the building's 80 inhabitants.
He added: “To have a fire of this magnitude and to not have any injuries .. it was an outstanding job all around.”
The three-alarm fire caused an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 damage to the Hilltop Ridge at Washington Park building at 22 Country Club Drive.
Witnesses said the fire started on a second-floor porch and quickly spread, engulfing the second and third floors and coming through the attic and roof. The fire was reported at 8:25 a.m.
Manchester Fire Chief James Burkush said several firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and at least one resident was treated for smoke inhalation.
All of the residents made it out of the building after Alen Omerbegovic, 37, a neighbor from across the street yelled, screamed, got a car to honk its horn, and finally buzzed all of the apartments in the building lobby to get residents' attention.
“He saw the smallest little fire under the air conditioner,” said his wife, Azra Omerbegovic, 34.
Rosilla Lamay, 24, was asleep in her first-floor apartment when the fire broke out.
“I was still asleep when I heard people screaming outside,” she said.
When the apartment buzzers went off, she decided to let Alen Omerbegovic in, thinking he was a visitor. Then the fire alarm went off.
Lamay said he went outside and saw the flames all through the second and third floor.
“It spread pretty quickly,” Lamay said.
She decided to run back in and get her two cats, her engagement ring, her grandmother's engagement ring and her cell phone. Lamay lost her grandmother's ring in the rush. She is thankful no one was seriously hurt.
“It could have been a lot worse,” she said.
Alana Santaro, 27, was getting ready to leave when she heard the commotion outside, and initially thought it was a fight going on in the street.
“I looked outside and they were yelling, 'Get out, it's a real fire,'” Santaro said.
Omayra Gutierrez, 34, was washing dishes and getting ready for church when she smelled a “burning rubber” smell in the building.
'I thought it was another (false) alarm,” she said.
But when she went outside, she saw the damage the fire was doing and started getting text messages from her friend, who lives on the third floor.
“She said, 'That's my apartment,'” Gutierrez said.
Both women got out of the building safely and watched as the firefighters worked to put out the flames. Every piece of the city's equipment was present but Ladder 6, Poulin said. The fire was declared under control at 11:15 a.m.
The fire's heat was so intense that water sprayed from the hoses was turned into steam, causing minor burns on the necks of firefighters, Poulin said.
In the end, one-third of the building suffered no damage, the middle section suffered major smoke and water damage, while the first section suffered major fire and water damage, Poulin said.
Residents were allowed back into the building with a firefighter escorting them to retrieve their salvageable items about 2 p.m. Sunday.
Santaro plans to stay with friends until she can figure out what to do.
“I'm just glad everyone's safe,” Santaro said.