WOONSOCKET – Roland Adams lost his home Friday afternoon but knows he could have lost much more had it not been for a wired fire alarm system in a five-family apartment building at 97 Rebekah Street.
“Everyone got out so it could have been a lot worse,” Adams said while watching city firefighters working inside the fire-damaged building after they knocked down flames erupting from a back second-floor apartment.
Adams had been at home with his wife, Tina, in their front second-floor apartment when the alarms began going off just before noon. He went out to find smoke in the hallway near the back apartment of the three-story, wood-frame building, and started alerting his fellow residents.
Tina Adams said she also spotted the smoke when she went out into the hallway to see what was going on. “I saw smoke coming from the apartment on the side of us so I told everyone the house was on fire and we had to get out,” she said.
Harry Thompson Jr., 31, who lives up on the third floor with his wife, Sarah, and the couple’s two cats, also heard the alarm going off downstairs and went out to check the hallway.
Although there was no sign of the fire on the third floor at that point, Thompson went down to the second floor and met Roland Adams, who told him that “there was a fire going on,” and he had to get out. Adams and Thompson banged on the door of the rear second-floor apartment to alert anyone inside and Adams was going to try to break in the door when he thought better of the potentially dangerous move.
Thompson ran back upstairs at that point to find his wife looking for the couple’s cats, Dante and Isabella, and told her they had to leave as flames began to appear outside the window.
Thompson said his wife grabbed her purse and he took the tower portion of their home computer and fled downstairs. He made it outside into the 28-degree weather wearing just a T-shirt, jeans, shoes and socks, he said.
The fire would roar up through the third-floor and the attic causing heavy damage to the Thompson’s apartment and other residences in the building.
The Adams’ daughter, Jessica, one of their three children living at the apartment, was downstairs babysitting three young children of family members living on the first floor, Jeff and Joellen Beausoliel. Tina Adams ran downstairs to help her daughter get the children out.
“I just threw on their coats, grabbed them and ran out,” Jessica Adams said.
Firefighters arriving on scene from the North Main Street Fire Station found the flames erupting from the upper floors of 97 Rebekah St. and spreading over to the eaves and roof of a similar five-family building close by at 105 Rebekah. The responding company set to work knocking down the fires at both structures, according to Deputy Fire Chief John Danis, scene commander.
“They knocked down the fire on the outside of 105 Rebekah Street and then went inside 97 Rebekah St. to attack the fire on the second and third floor of that building,” Danis said. The second-floor back apartment, where the fire is believed to have started, was unoccupied, he said.
Fire companies from Cumberland and Bellingham helped local firefighters fight the flames spreading to the eaves and attic of 105 Rebekah St., while the rest of the city’s fire companies focused on the heavier fire burning in 97 Rebekah St., Danis said. Fire companies from North Smithfield, Blackstone and Burrillville also assisted the local fire crews in controlling the fires in the densely-built neighborhood.
The 105 Rebekah St. extension was quickly extinguished by the fire crews and the 97 Rebekah St. blaze was brought under control within an hour to an hour-and-a-half, Danis said.
Firefigthers found one of the Thompson’s cats unharmed but were still looking for the other Friday afternoon. A parrot owned by the Beausoliels was also found unharmed. No injuries were reported among the residents fleeing the building or the responding firefighters, Danis said.
The cause remained under investigation by state and local fire marshals Friday afternoon, Danis said. Firefighters found three Christmas trees in the building but all were artificial, he said.
“The firefighters clearly made a good stop,” Danis said, noting the work the fire companies put in to limit the damage from the fire to the first property neighboring ones.
“The houses are very close together in this neighborhood,” Danis said. The city crews used a water cannon on an aerial ladder erected in front of 97 Rebekah St. to help knock down the flames from that location. The sub-freezing cold also caused icing on the streets in the neighborhood and required sand and salt to be brought to the scene to address the slippery conditions.
Mayor Leo T. Fontaine, visiting the scene to check on the well-being of the affected families, said they would be provided immediate temporary housing by the R.I. Chapter of the American Red Cross and additional help by the city’s Human Services department if needed later on. In all, about 15 people living at 97 Rebekah St. were left homeless by the fire and at least two families living in 105 Rebekah were put out by the lesser damage in that building.
Fontaine also had praise for the firefighters responding to the city disaster scene.
“Their work speaks for itself,” he said. “Whenever there is an emergency in the city, they are right there to help.”
Thompson said he had been told by firefighters that some of contents of his apartment might be salvageable but also that they would have to wait to see if anything could be removed. He said he felt lucky to get his computer out of the building since it contained his family’s photographs and his stories as an aspiring writer.
The heavy flames caused much of the building’s roof to collapse into the attic area and no estimate on the cost repairs was available on Friday.
“I’m just happy everyone survived and we were all able to get out quickly,” Thompson said. The people the fire victims encountered outside were also very helpful, he said.
“Someone gave me a fleece and then someone else gave me coat,” he added.
The property at 97 Rebekah was owned by Godin Properties and was insured.
Jerry Godin, a principal in the corporation, said he was happy that the building had a proper alarm system and it had helped all of the tenants to get out safely.