WOONSOCKET — A passerby trying to save people in a burning tenement ended up the only casualty from the fire at 121 Providence St. early Tuesday.
Police said William A. Paul III was treated at Landmark Medical Center for lacerations to his hand after punching through a window.
There's no way Paul could have known, but no one was inside the three-story, four-family residence when he happened upon the fire during a late-night bicycle ride.
“It was vacant,” said Lt. Michael Morin of the Woonsocket Fire Department. “It looked like the whole house was going through a rehab.”
Paul, 18, told police he was riding though the neighborhood about 1:40 a.m. when he smelled smoke. As he got closer to the house, located next door to the Providence Street fire station, he could see an “orange glow” behind the windows on the second floor.
Paul told police he dialed 911 and watched as the flames burst through the outer walls of the gray clapboard while he was still on the phone with the dispatcher.
After hanging up, Paul said he ran over to the house and started pounding his fists on doors and windows to alert anyone who might still be inside. He said he accidentally punched through one of the windows.
The fire was extinguished in less than an hour, said Morin, but it caused heavy damage to the first story and the second, where it is believed to have originated. The fire left a blackened scorch mark on the exterior of the house that looked like a thick stripe running the entire length of the facade.
A police report says the house is owned by Lone Star Realty. A representative of the company identified as Robert Wittier of Providence told police the house has been undergoing renovations for at least a year.
While there was electrical service on the ground floor of the house, Wittier told police power had been shut off on the second floor.
Wittier said he was the last person in the house before the fire, when he delivered a load of floor tiles to the first floor during the day on Monday. The house was secure when he left, he said.
Morin said the cause of the fire is undetermined and remains under investigation by the state fire marshal, the Woonsocket fire department and the city police.