LEOMINSTER — A six-alarm blaze tore through the old Columbia Hotel in the heart of this north central Massachusetts city late Saturday night, injuring two firefighters when a portion of the building collapsed, a fire official said.
Fire Chief Robert Sidleau said the fire began around 10 p.m. in the front portion of the building at 65 Main St. The building houses 20 apartment units as well as businesses including an arts center, a tavern, and a newspaper office.
Brisk winds pushed the flames and smoke through the back of the building, significantly damaging the structure, said Sidleau.
The firefighters were hurt while in a bucket on a ladder truck when a wall collapsed onto them, Sidleau said. They were transported to the Health Alliance Hospital and medics told him they appear to be OK, he said. No residents were hurt and all made it out of the building safely, he said.
Flames continued to burst through the roof early Sunday morning, and firefighters continued to battle the blaze.
Residents crowded around the scene staring at the flames.
Ray Alicea, 29, who lives two blocks away, said he saw a portion of the building collapse late Saturdayonto the firefighters.
“I saw a couple of firefighters with the ladder and then the whole thing came down,” said Alicea.
Caroline LaCourse, 43, who said she lives two doors down from the hotel, went out to Main Street when there was only smoke coming from the building. She said she saw the conditions quickly worsen.
“The smoke started coming pouring out all the sides.”
Firefighters assisted from more than a dozen surrounding cities and towns, including Fitchburg and Shirley.
Standing on Main Street as an easterly wind blew thick gray smoke through downtown Leominster, Sidleau said the fire was among the biggest during his time at the local department. The chief has worked for the Leominster Fire Department for 31 years and called the building on main Street a cornerstone of the community.
“It’s the historic Columbia Hotel,” he said. “It’s going to be devastating.”
Fire officials said they did not know what had caused the fire and will investigate.
The first floor establishments included the Leominster Arts Center and the Columbia Tavern, the oldest tavern in the city, according to the Fitchburg-based Sentinel & Enterprise newspaper. It said the hotel opened in 1892 to serve travelers at an adjacent train depot.