Dry Christmas tree may have sparked Lawrence fire that left 13 homeless and damaged nearby houses

A fast-burning fire that may have been sparked by a dry Christmas tree reduced a two-family home nearly to ashes Friday night and melted vinyl-sided walls on nearby houses.

Residents told firefighters and neighbors that the fire began after a dry Christmas tree ignited. Acting Lawrence Deputy Fire Chief Perry DiNatale said Lawrence fire officials are investigating the blaze and have not determined its cause.

DiNatale said at least one resident of 7 Lafayette Ave. jumped from the building during the fire. He said at least 13 people were displaced by the blaze, which began around 11 p.m. Lawrence Fire Chief Jack Bergeron said nine of the residents were were treated for smoke inhilation at local hospitals and released today.

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Nine of the residents left homeless lived at 7 Lafayette Ave., and the other four lived in a two-family next door, said DiNatale.

Bergeron said the fire was so hot it cracked the windows of an adjacent home, and melted the vinyl siding on the walls of four other homes, including two that are across the crowded street.

One of those houses was boarded up earlier this morning, and residents were able to return to the other three houses today. The flames also melted 13 Lawrence fire truck headlights, and destroyed two 50-foot sections of a fire hose.

“We tried to make an entry to the rear of the building because there was a report that people were there. We were there for a short time and driven back and then the hose caught fire and burst,” said DiNatale.

It took firefighters three hours to knock down the three-alarm blaze. For much of the time they worked in darkness as the flames burned overhead electrical cables, knocking out electricity in the neighborhood, which is near the Andover border.

Firefighters from Methuen, Andover, North Andover and Wilmington were dispatched to the scene, and firefighters from Danvers, Middleton, Ipswich, Reading and Billerica provided extra coverage at Lawrence’s four fire stations.

Annette Cote said she was getting ready for bed when she heard screaming and looked across the street. She called 911 after she saw fire in a window and watched residents run from the burning home into the street.

“By the time I finished calling 911, there was fire all over the building, and the porch and the windows were full of fire,” said Cote. “I’ve never seen anything like that so fast.”

Michael Donnelly, who has lived on the street, for 44 years, said residents were lucky it was a calm evening. The street sits on a hill off Broadway.

“If it was a windy night there would have been a lot more trouble that’s for sure,” he said.

DiNatale said residents should take extra care during the holiday season around indoor Christmas trees.

“Make sure that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and that you water the tree. Also, you have to be careful with any open flames,” said DiNatale.

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