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    Suspicious fire displaces 5 families in Lowell

    An early-morning blaze in Lowell Saturday that damaged a six-unit apartment building and displaced 21 people was caused by a suspicious dumpster fire, according to the Lowell Fire Department.

    Deputy Fire Chief Michael Donnelly said “at least a half-dozen” dumpster fires had broken out in the area over the past six months. He said authorities expect to interview “a person of interest” in the case on Monday.

    The Saturday fire is still under investigation, he said, but it appeared to be suspicious. “Dumpsters don’t just start on fire by themselves,” he said.

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    The fire, which was reported at 4:06 a.m. on Second Street, started in a dumpster at the back of the building, said Donnelly. Three mattresses were leaning against the building next to the dumpster, he said.

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    “The [vinyl] siding caught fire and traveled to the attic space above,” said Donnelly, explaining that those areas of the building, which has three units on each side, were heavily damaged, but “the rest of the apartment mostly has smoke and water damage.”

    The American Red Cross assisted the five displaced families — eight children and 13 adults — by putting them up in hotels, giving them blankets and toiletries, and giving them emergency funds for food, according to a statement from Red Cross spokeswoman Kat Powers.

    One firefighter suffered minor injuries, but did not go to the hospital, said Donnelly.

    “He suffered some burns to his ears, but he stayed on duty,” he said.

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    The state fire marshal’s office had no additional information on the case, said spokeswoman Jennifer Meith.

    Jeff Fish can be reached at jfish@globe.com