Body of child recovered from rubble of Uxbridge building; search for second victim underway
UXBRIDGE - The body recovered from the charred remnants of an apartment building is that of a child, and the search for a second person is ongoing in the building destroyed by three-alarm fire where officials fear a mother and her daughter have perished, an official briefed on the investigation said.
The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the remains of the child were found at 10 a.m. at the scene of the blaze at 639 East Hartford Ave.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said at the fire scene that one body was recovered and searchers continue to look for a second. Early declined to provide specifics.
Early also said that seven of the nine residents of the apartment building have been accounted for, and residents said a 45-year-old mother and her first-grade daughter are missing.
Early said the search for the cause and origin of the fire are still being investigated. Uxbridge officials along with State Police assigned to Early’s office and that of State Fire Marshall Stephen D. Coan are searching for answers in what may end up being a double fatal fire.
Resident Justin Hutchinson, 21, said today that he tried to get the woman and her daughter out of their unit on the first floor of the L-shaped building.
“When I ran outside, I looked inside the house and the living room was on fire’’ in the unit where the mother and daughter lived, said Hutchinson, who is convinced the fire started in the living room of the woman’s unit. “That’s why I went to the back door, but smoke was already coming out of the back.
“We were yelling for them, but didn’t hear anything,’’ Hutchinson said. “You couldn’t even get through the smoke. The heat was crazy. The whole house just went up in eight or nine minutes.”
Hutchinson said he realized something was wrong when he went into his room and discovered the walls had begun to smoke. Then, the temperature started to rise.
Hutchinson said he got his father and a woman he lives with out of the building along with a friend named Chris and other residents.
Uxbridge Fire Chief William Kessler told reporters that the fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. He said his department, and the responding mutual aid fire departments, were hampered by the area’s rural location.
He said the nearest water source for firefighters was 1200 feet away from the burning, five-unit apartment building.
Earlier today, resident Robert Ouellette, who has lived in the building for two years, said today that someone alerted him around 11 p.m. Monday that the building was on fire. “Get out!’’ the person shouted, Ouellette recalled today.
He said he grabbed his cat, ran outside, got into his car and drove across the street and discovered that the front of the building was engulfed by smoke and flames.
As he and other residents gathered, they quickly realized the woman and daughter, who live in the first floor apartment next to Ouellette, were missing. They alerted arriving emergency personnel about the possibility they had not made it out, he said.
“I’m praying to God she wasn’t at home,’’ he said.
Ouellette said the pair were homebodies, and that the mother most likely would have been home when the fire broke out because Monday was a school night.
The woman, who recently told Ouellette she had just turned 45 years old, was considered a doting mother of her daughter who was to begin the first grade in the town elementary school this month.
He said the fire is devastating to everyone who lived in the L-shaped building, a reality that hit residents as they watched firefighters try and put out the massive fire.
“A couple of tenants were screaming and crying, everything we owned was going up in smoke,’’ Ouellette said.
The rural neighborhood forced firefighters to link pump trucks together by long links of fire hoses as they moved water from a distant fire hydrant to the fire scene.
John Thurber, 63, said he has lived on East Hartford Avenue just about his whole life. His home is about 400 feet from the farm house that was destroyed by a fire Monday night.
“It was like an inferno,” Thurber said.
Neighbor Jeffrey May, a pastor at Faith Fellowship Foursquare Church, said his daughter was awoken by a loud crackling sounds, which she thought might have been gunfire and which she thought might be a deer pushing its way through his heavily wooded property.
“I looked out the window and saw flickering in the distance. I grabbed my flashlight and ran to the woods because I wasn’t sure if it was our property on fire. I wasn’t sure if it was a forest fire,” he said. “And then, of course, I saw the house burning.”
An Uxbridge native who lives down the street from his father, May said there was a forest fire on his property years ago, but nothing that comes even close to the tragedy that unfolded across the street from him.
“We were hoping and praying that they were gone some place or that some family members took them away for the weekend, but it just doesn’t work that way,’’ he said. “It’s just awful.”