Two bodies were recovered Monday from the charred remains of a Worcester apartment building where a fire broke out early Saturday morning, raising the death toll to four after two other victims were found over the weekend, city officials said.
None of the victims’ names have been released. Four residents were also injured, including one who fell or jumped from a third-floor window and was taken to UMass Medical Center with serious injuries, officials said in a briefing Monday at Worcester City Hall.
Worcester acting Fire Chief Martin Dyer said investigators were carefully searching the building on Monday, and the process had been slowed by concerns about the integrity of the structure.
He said “the potential does exist for more victims“ to be found but officials have no information indicating that more victims are inside.
”Because of the devastation of the fire here, the building is not stable right now, so we are being meticulous in the way we approach the building,” he said. “We have investigators working there now. They are removing debris by hand, so it’s a very slow process.”
Dyer said officials on Monday were still working to identify victims and notify their families.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the community was saddened by the tragedy.
“This has been an extremely difficult weekend for our residents, the families of the victims, and all our first responders,” Augustus said. “The city of Worcester offers our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and loved ones.”
Nearly 70 firefighters responded to the four-alarm blaze, which was reported at 3:31 a.m. and tore through the six-family building at 2 Gage St. while damaging two neighboring buildings, city officials said. No firefighters were injured.
More than 20 people were displaced and the Red Cross of Massachusetts is assisting those families, officials said Monday.
By the time fire crews reached the location, the blaze was already burning up the rear of the building, Dyer said. The roof began to collapse about 4:30 a.m., he said.
“The extinguishment proved to be extremely challenging, requiring firefighters to remain on scene throughout the day on Saturday,” Dyer said. “Due to the collapse of the roof structure [and] the severe fire damage, only a partial search of the building was possible on Saturday morning.”
Two bodies were found during an initial search of the damaged property early Saturday afternoon, Dyer said.
On Sunday, investigators became aware of snakes in one of the apartments and authorities had to remove “a number of snakes” before the probe could continue, Dyer said. Two Worcester Police Animal Control vans were parked outside of the building on Sunday.
“We had the experts there and they pulled them out,” Dyer said. “I can’t speak to how dangerous these snakes were. Obviously, once we heard that [snakes were in the building], we took every precaution necessary.”
The snakes that were recovered are alive, Dyer said.
State Police and Auburn Fire Department K-9s were brought in to assist with the search, and a third body was discovered around 8 a.m. Monday, Dyer said. A fourth body was found around 1 p.m., he said.
All four bodies are in the custody of the state medical examiner.
Dyer offered condolences to the victims’ families and praised the “members of the Worcester Fire Department for their courageous efforts Saturday morning under extreme and difficult conditions, and for their continued efforts.”
An investigation into the fire is underway by the Worcester Fire Department; Worcester Police Department; Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early’s office; US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and the State Fire Marshal’s office, officials said.
“The true investigation really started today,” Dyer said Monday. “This is when we were able to gain some decent access to the building, but we’ve still not been able to cover much of the building.”
Augustus praised firefighters on Monday for their work in battling the devastating blaze.
“Our firefighters gave a valiant effort Saturday morning working to stop the fire from spreading, stabilizing the scene, and providing emergency care on the scene as well as transporting victims,” Augustus said. “While we are deeply saddened by the loss of life, we are thankful to our public safety personnel for their selfless and professional response, which prevented more damage and additional loss of life and property.”