PLYMOUTH—Florence L. Williams had just arrived home Friday morning after spending Thanksgiving with family in Longmeadow when she saw something was wrong.
There were fire trucks and emergency vehicles outside her senior housing complex in Plymouth, and a gaping black swath across the part of the complex where her apartment is located.
“You know how when you come back from a vacation and you hope your house is still there,” said Williams’ daughter, Karen M. Gappa. “That what was us.”
A four-alarm fire had hit the High Cliff Senior Housing complex on Prince Street in the early morning hours.
Four people were hospitalized, though no one was seriously injured, and a dozen residents were displaced. One of them was Williams, who lives across from the apartment where the blaze broke out, and whose unit suffered damage to the ceiling and floor.
“Thank God she wasn’t at home,” Gappa kept repeating. Her 92-year-old mother, she said, has lost her sense of smell, and would have had trouble smelling the smoke.
“She wasn’t at home, thank God.”
The fire hit the complex, which contains single-person units for senior citizens, at about 4 a.m., said Plymouth Fire Chief G. Edward Bradley.
Sixteen residents were evacuated, and four later allowed back in, authorities said. Some of the apartments were empty because residents, like Williams, were staying with family or friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The fire was caused by a small, scented tea candle that had been placed on top of the television in a resident’s first-floor unit, Bradley said. The woman, whose name was not released, thought she had blown out the flame. When she saw that a fire had started, she opened the front door of her unit to get out and smoke streamed into the hallway, tripping the alarm system for the entire complex, which is directly connected to the fire department, Bradley said.
The fire was extinguished shortly after 5 a.m., Bradley said.
“Luckily, no one was seriously injured,” said Plymouth Selectmen Chairman Matt Muratore.
Rachel Potts of the American Red Cross said four units in the building were destroyed, and several more were badly damaged — enough that their residents would not be able to return for a while. She said 12 rooms had been reserved at a Comfort Inn in Plymouth for residents who could not, or would not, return to their homes.
Esther Mae Tedstone’s first-floor apartment was not badly damaged, but she said she could not bear to spend the night there.
“I’m too nervous to go back there,” she said in the lobby of the Comfort Inn, where she planned to hunker down with friends and play Rummy 500.
Tedstone, 73, said her apartment is located across the hall from the unit where the fire started. She was sitting in her recliner past 3 a.m. as she always does, watching reruns of “Law and Order,” when she heard knocking on her door. It was her neighbor warning her about the fire. Five minutes later, she said, a firefighter “in a funky mask” showed up and told her to leave through her back door.
Tedstone, who normally gets around in a scooter, said she was unable to lift her albino cat, Sugar, and had to leave the pet in the apartment for a half-hour until someone brought her the animal.
Bradley said another resident’s cat was missing.
At the complex Friday afternoon, workers scrambled to remove debris from the units affected by the blaze, and dry out and clear the air in adjacent parts of the complex that were not damaged by the fire.
“There was a ton of water. We’re extracting that and shoveling wet sheetrock,” said Mike Ryan, of Able Restoration Inc.
Ryan said his team was setting up heating units so the moisture does not freeze, and had installed “air scrubbers” to remove the fire’s pungent odor.
Joanne Mooney, a 19-year resident of another building in the complex, lives in an apartment far enough away that it suffered no damage. So she is staying there, even though the air is “still stinky.”
Mooney said she awoke to a fire alarm. “The hall was full of smoke,” she said. “It was scary.”
She and other residents made their way out into the cold.
“To stand out there and see that flame shooting up the doorway, it was like, ‘Whoa, I’m outta here,’” Mooney said.
Mooney said she suffered an asthma attack and was taken to Jordan Hospital, where she was treated for smoke inhalation and sent home. While she was there, she said, she saw several of her neighbors, including a woman from one of the apartments that had burned.
Mooney said this was the first fire in 19 years at the complex, “except for one time when a women fell asleep cooking fish, but they got that before there was any damage.”