WOONSOCKET – A fire in Main Street’s historic Commercial Block yesterday forced the temporary evacuation of tenants from 11 upstairs apartments and heavily damaged a convenience store on the ground floor.
Most bystanders never saw the fire, which was largely trapped between the exterior brick wall on the south side of the rambling building and an interior plaster wall.
Capt. Michael Morin, assistant deputy state fire marshal for the Woonsocket Fire Department, said the fire was located above the ceiling of Liberty Market, between the ground floor and second story of the building.
“It caused extensive damage to the inside of the market above the coolers in the rear,” said Morin. “They’re not going to be reopening any time soon.”
Liberty Market is one of several storefront businesses located on the ground floor of the Commercial Block, with addresses that run from 95-117 Main St. Sixteen studio-size apartments are located on the second story, including five that were vacant, said Morin. The building has a sealed-off third floor that is unoccupied.
As firefighters scrambled about the site, Sheikh Jamil, the proprietor of Liberty Market, could be seen in a parking lot opposite the market, comforting his wife, who was visibly shaken. She had been working in the market shortly before the fire broke out. She was too upset to talk, but a friend of hers said she had seen smoke in the market before fleeing the building.
Randy Plasse, one of many bystanders who gathered to watch firefighters, said he reported the fire on a cell phone after he saw smoke coming from the building. Plasse said he was with a friend on the Truman Bypass – behind the building – at the time. He said he was so curious about the origin of the smoke he walked around to the front of the building and could see flames in a hallway that abuts the building.
Natalie Martineau said she was trying to visit a friend who lives on the second floor of the Commercial Block around the same time and she saw flames coming from behind a piece of plywood covering a window on one of the upper stories.
“I could see fire, smoke and fire, coming out of the boards,” she said. “This was real fire, real flames, not just smoke.”
Martineau said she saw two men trying to climb a pipe that hugs the building, carrying a fire extinguisher, but they seemed to be struggling and couldn’t get close to the fire.
Morin said he was hopeful that all of the residential tenants would be allowed to return to their apartments by today. Before being allowed back in, he said, the fire department was conducting tests of their fire alarms to make sure they are in working order.
Firefighters had to smash their way through an interior plaster wall to reach the fire and put it out, according to Morin. Crews were still on scene for several hours extinguishing hot spots, said Morin.
Built in 1902, the Commercial Block is owned by Stamatos Property Management of Jamaica Plain, Mass., which bought the building out of foreclosure in 2011 for a reported $300,000. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Firefighters had not yet determined the cause of the fire as of press time.