WOONSOCKET – A fire possibly breaking out in the area of a second-floor bedroom of a two-family home at 137-139 Mount St. Charles Ave. forced residents out into the street Tuesday evening, but luckily did not injure anyone, according to fire officials.
The blaze erupting out of the second-floor windows as firefighters arrived on scene just after 5:40 p.m. had forced a family of five out of the upstairs apartment and prompted neighbors to rush into the single-family home next door to help a frail 83-year-old woman and her daughter out of the building as its vinyl siding nearest the flames melted and the wood sheathing below began to char.
Nick Runions, 24, had been nearby with Jason Padilla when they heard the fire breaking out. “We could hear people screaming ‘My house is on fire, my house is on fire,’ ” Runions said. As they arrived at the two-family everyone had already exited the building, but the husband of the family living on second floor appeared like he was going to go back in, Runions said.
“We stopped the guy from going back in and then saw a light on in the house next door,” he said.
They then rushed over to that residence as the flames began to melt the sliding and worked to help the two women inside to get out.
“When someone is in trouble you’ve just got to help save them,” Runions said.
The effort to get the two women out ended up taking Runions, Padilla and at least four other residents of the neighborhood because of their physical limitations. “I ran up and helped them carry one of the ladies out,” Padilla said. “She was in a wheelchair,” he said while noting the residents both required help to get out.
Dorothy Chaplin, 66, who lives in the home with her mother, Jessie Thomas, 83; daughter Otisha Chaplin, 40; and granddaughter Ari, 3, said her mother was in a wheelchair at the time, and she needed a walker that was downstairs. Otisha and her granddaughter were not home at the time, and neighbors rushed in to help find what they needed and got them out, she said.
“We just heard the noise outside and then this guy came rushing in and said, ‘We got to get you out of the house,’ ” Chaplin said.
After getting her walker, the neighbors teamed to carry both Mrs. Thomas and her down the stairs to the street, Chaplin said. “I was scared but they didn’t drop us,” she said.
Awa Dioum, 37, of Woonsocket, said her sister and her husband and their three children had all been forced out by the fire but were safe and unhurt. Dioum, tears still in her eyes over the incident, said she did not know about the second family in the apartment building. None of the residents of 137-139 Mount St. Charles Avenue would be able to return to that structure until repairs had been made.
Chaplin and her family were allowed to return to their house later Tuesday night.
With the flames threatening to spread to the vacated Chaplin residence, firefighters arriving at the scene were faced with a two-pronged effort to stop damage to that dwelling while also knocking down the fire inside the two-family home, according to Deputy Fire Chief Roger Perreault.
Local fire units were already on the road returning from another call when the report of fire at 137 Mount St. Charles Ave. came in, according to Perreault. “We could actually see the plume of smoke in route,” he said. The fire was initially found jetting out of second-floor windows near the bedroom area, and a line was put on the single-family home at 147 Mount St. Charles and a crew inside to make sure that building did not become an extension of the fire, Perreault said. Another crew took lines up the second floor of 137 Mount St. Charles and began to knock down the fire there while firefighters opened the roof and found a way into the attic area, where the fire had spread to at that point.
As that fire load increased, Perreault said firefighters worked to open the ceiling of the second-floor apartment to get to the flames in that manner.
The fire had largely been brought under control by 6:30 p.m. Firefighters continued to work hotspots in the attic and roof area, and Perreault said he expected fire crews to be on scene for a mopup lasting several hours.
The cause of the fire remained unknown Tuesday evening, and Perreault said department and state fire investigators were expected to conduct an investigation later in the evening. Acting Fire Chief Tim Walsh was also at the scene and assisting Perreault with the incident.
The two-family home sustained heavy fire damage in the area of the bedroom and up into the attic area, but largely just smoke and water damage on the first floor, according to Perreault.
With the intensity of the flames found as firefighters arrived on scene and the exterior damage done to the home next door, Perreault said the fire damage could have been much worse.
“They did a tremendous job over here,” Perreault said while looking at the damage to second-floor window area. “It was a good stop.”
Joining local firefighters at the scene, Perreault said, were members of the Cumberland Hill and North Cumberland Fire Departments, the Bellingham Fire Department and North Smithfield. Other area departments also provided coverage of local stations while all local units were at the fire.