CAMBRIDGE — A woman was killed and at least six people were left homeless Wednesday morning when a three-alarm fire tore through one three-decker near Inman Square and leaped to a neighboring house before firefighters could control it.
Fire Chief Gerald R. Reardon said the woman, whom he estimated to be in her 30s, apparently tried to escape the fast-moving flames, but was found unconscious in her second-floor apartment on Prospect Street, where Reardon said the fire started. Fire officials said she was in cardiac arrest, and neighbors said they saw rescuers performing CPR.
Firefighters have not yet determined what caused the fire.
“The blaze was very bad,” said Michael Francis, 53, who lives on the first floor at 240 Prospect, the building where the fire started before jumping to 238.
The Middlesex district attorney’s office did not release the woman’s name pending notification of her relatives. Francis said he did not see the woman often, but said she was from Pakistan, where her husband and high school-age children still live, and had moved into the apartment about six months ago.
Francis said the resident of a third-floor apartment smelled smoke and knocked on his door. The third-floor neighbor told Francis he also knocked on the door of the woman on the second floor, but she did not open up.
The resident said he was able to force open the door, but could not get inside because there was too much smoke, said Francis.
The 911 call came in at around 4 a.m., Reardon said. When firefighters arrived, the blaze had already blown out the second-floor windows of 240 Prospect St. and was racing back inside the third-floor windows.
It took about an hour and a half to beat down the fire, said Reardon, and the frigid weather — it was in the single digits — almost immediately turned the water from the hoses to ice, coating ladders and sidewalks. A handful of firefighters, he said, slipped on the ice or suffered minor burns, but none was taken to the hospital.
Later Wednesday, firefighters worked inside the blackened 240 Prospect, shoveling wet and charred debris out of blown-out windows, and a dog trained to detect accelerants walked around the small front yard. The street was blocked off by Cambridge police cruisers, and the pavement was covered in a thick layer of ice.
Residents standing outside said they were saddened, but not surprised, that the powerful blaze had taken a life.
“Literally, you could see the entire top of the building on fire; you could see flames leaping out the windows from the sides,” said Tom Revay, 54, who lives next door “When I first saw it, it was a small flame, but suddenly it was just everywhere.”
Tiago Reis, 26, who lives on the first floor of 238 Prospect St., was left shaken.
“We woke up to the smoke, the orange glow from the flames,” Reis said. “It was really, really insane. You start to have this idea that you are dreaming, because you are in the middle of your sleep. Then you realize you are not dreaming, something really is happening. . . . I think this is the kind of thing that will mark my life.”
Reardon estimated the damage to 240 Prospect St. at between $600,000 and $700,000 and the damage to 238 at about $100,000.
Assistant Chief Gerry Mahoney said that either seven or eight people lived in 240, and Reardon said there were three units in 238.
It was not clear when residents of 238 could return home.
The American Red Cross provided clothing, food, and shelter to displaced residents.