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Tenants flee Lynn fire

Zaina Saidi stood with her few belongings on Monday after a fire at her Lynn apartment building.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Zaina Saidi stood with her few belongings on Monday after a fire at her Lynn apartment building.

LYNN — Zaina Saidi’s rescued possessions totaled one small suitcase, some loose coins, and her grandmother’s necklace after a four-alarm fire roared through a large apartment building early Monday morning, leaving an estimated 44 people homeless.

“My everything that I have were in there,’’ said Saidi, 60, a certified nursing assistant currently on unemployment, as she stood near the charred remains of the apartment building at 145 Lewis St. “All my clothes, my two TVs, my furniture, my everything. I don’t have anything, just my grandmother’s jewelry. I need help.”

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Saidi was one of the dozens of people, including 14 children, forced from their homes beginning at 11:54 p.m. Sunday when a fire that apparently began in the rear and lower floors of the building crawled up the structure before breaking out onto the third floor and the roof above.

“People were being helped out through windows and got out through the first floor,” Deputy Lynn Fire Chief Bill Murray said. It took more than two hours to bring the blaze under control, Murray said, and firefighters were ordered out of the building before the roof collapsed.

Residents were taken to the Brickett Elementary School, where the American Red Cross set up a temporary shelter.

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Kat Powers, Red Cross spokeswoman, said 30 adults and 14 children have registered with the Red Cross, and about half of them could not find alter­native housing with relatives or friends Monday. Efforts are underway to find long-term housing by working with the city and human service agencies.

Despite the thick black smoke and shooting flames, all of the tenants got out of the building safely.

‘Mom, c’mon, c’mon. Get out, get out.’

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“To me that’s a miracle,’’ said Shawn Claffey, a third-floor tenant who struggled through the smoke, helped by a friend, to evacuate his three children, who range in age from 9 months to 5 years.

“They’re all right,’’ said Claffey, who will now stay with relatives in Lynn for the near future. “My son lost his fish; my daughter her ferret. But that stuff is easily replaceable. As long as, you know, my kids are all right, their mother’s all right, I’m all right, everybody else in the building is all right. That’s all that matters.’’

Another resident, Jennifer Duggins, 50, said she awoke to the sound of her apartment buzzer. Her 21-year-old daughter had come home to find the building on fire and was frantically trying to alert her mother to get out of the top-floor unit they share.

“ ‘Mom, c’mon, c’mon. Get out, get out,’ ” Duggins said her daughter screamed through the intercom.

Duggins said she opened the door, found the hallway filled with smoke, and made her way downstairs.

“I was scared,” she said, standing across the street from the building, wrapped in blankets, as ashes soared overhead.

Duggins said she moved to the United States about a ­decade ago from St. Kitts, a ­Caribbean island. She said she moved into the building just three months ago and had ­received naturalization papers in the mail a week ago. ­Duggins, who said she has no other family in the area, presumes that her documents were casualties of the flames.

“All my documents, everything is gone,” she said. “My stomach hurts.”

Steve Speliotis said he and his girlfriend were in their second-­floor apartment when they heard the building’s internal fire alarm sounding, which happens often enough that he said they first thought it was not a real emergency.

“But we heard people screaming in the hallways,’’ he said Monday. “And when we opened up the door, there was like this gush of black smoke every­where, so we started to get really scared. So we knocked down the window screen and went down the fire escape, which was really scary.’’

As Saidi stood on the sidewalk hoping for some assistance, Judith Wilson showed up to help her friend and fellow member of a Revere church. Wilson, a Lynn resident, put medical appointments on hold so she could stand with Saidi.

“It’s what we do when we have a sister in the church — and a friend — who is in trouble, you reach out to help,’’ ­Wilson said.

The building is owned by Andrew Perkins, whose storefront office at 179 Lewis St. is a brief walk from the fire scene. Perkins said he will wait for the state fire marshal and Lynn firefighters to determine the cause. He said there was a small fire at the building last week when a garbage bag ignited, but it was quickly put out by his staff and firefighters.

Perkins, who is by his own count the second-largest landlord in Lynn, said he has asked his staff to help the tenants find new homes, which may be difficult because of the North Shore city’s very low apartment ­vacancy rate. He said his insurance coverage includes a $750 relocation payment, which he promised to make sure reaches the tenants quickly.

“We take it very seriously, and we are interested in helping these people out,’’ Perkins said. “We’re not just going to leave them stranded.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@
globe.com
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