Saturday, 2:15 PM
Fire leaves Lawrence residents out in the cold
By Russell Contreras, Globe Staff
LAWRENCE -- In the South Lawrence neighborhood, it's not unusual for Luis Taveras to be awakened at night by booming reggaeton from passing cars or from police sirens racing to a scene or, on some occasions, an orphan gunshot.
But early Monday morning, it was Taveras' landlord screaming to get his girlfriend and two children and run.
It was a fire this time.
As a blaze jumped from a nightclub to nearby homes, residents in South Lawrence were pushed out of an early morning sleep by knocks on doors from firefighters, police and neighbors, yelling at them to get out. From a confused daze to standing out in the freezing predawn, dozens of residents found themselves outside in robes and slippers, watching their apartments collapse from an angry blaze that charred away clothes, furniture, family photos and everything else left inside.
A sleepy Taveras, 29, thought Judgement Day had come. "Everything was just burning," said Taveras, who escaped from his Springfield Street apartment with girlfriend Jannette Ayala, 19, and their two toddlers. "I felt like it was the end of the world."
When Ayala went to grab her two children from their room, she saw the blaze from their window. She grabbed them without bothering to put their shoes on. They all managed to get out by walking out of the front door.
James Lambe, 40, said he was also asleep when police came knocking on his door. When he woke, the fire was already in his bathroom.
"(They) got me out before the whole building was engulfed," said Lambe, who lived alone in an apartment on Parker Street. "I grabbed my jacket, my wallet, my cell phone and ran."
He immediately found himself at the Haffner's Car Wash across the street. Lambe said the fire was so hot that tops of cars had steam coming off of them. But he and the other residents shivered from the 20 degree temperatures.
"I felt like a meat popsicle," said Lambe.
By dawn, buses and family arrived to take away the now homeless families to temporary shelters. Around 2:30 p.m., Taveras, Ayala and their children were resting at a temporary shelter housed at South Lawrence East School.
Jamie Devlin, interim executive director of the Red Cross Merrimack Valley chapter, said so far 54 people had registered to seek assistance but expected that number to double or triple in the next day or two. "Potentially, we can see around 150 people who need help," said Devlin.
He said Red Cross workers would be speaking with those affected by the fire and determine who needed vouchers for food and clothing.
Lawrence Superintendent Wilfredo T. Laboy said school officials have identified about half a dozen students whose families lost homes in fire. He said the students are zoned to attend the Wetherbee School.
The district will provide bus service for students who are in a shelter, Laboy said.
Devlin said the Merrimack Valley Red Cross has been busy in the last two months due to a number of recent fires in the area. "I wouldn't say we feel overwhelmed," said Devlin. "We're being tested, certainly. But that's what we're around for."
By noon Monday, donations of clothes and money started pouring in to the Red Cross to help victims. The New Balance Foundation, for example, announced Monday it was donating $25,000 cq to the Red Cross for relief efforts and $10,000 in clothes and shoes for victims.
Just after 3 p.m. Monday, Lambe arrived to the South Lawrence East School to register for Red Cross assistance. Before filling out the required paperwork, Lambe realized he lost something important -- his eye glasses. "Oh no," said Lambe. "I really lost everything."
Asked what he intended to do now, Lambe took a deep breath and said, "I'm going to start rebuilding my life by looking for some subsidized housing." Lambe said he is disabled and doesn't currently work.
Taveras, who works in construction, said he too won't be working in the near future. His girlfriend is pregnant and the doctor said she can't lift anything heavy.
"Right now, it's like we don't got nothing," said Taveras. "Even though the Red Cross help us with shirts and...but it don't feel the same, as having your own things that you work hard for."
Taveras then took a long pause, and said, "I'm hanging in there with my girl."
Russell Contreras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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