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Lawrence residents react to fire in house damaged by gas disaster

A raging fire Friday that destroyed a vacant Lawrence home already damaged by September’s gas disaster was a new source of trauma for residents burdened by memories of the catastrophe.

“It just triggers everything. . . . I just had tears in my eyes,” said Claire Cook, who lives near the house. “I just said, ‘Not again.’ ”

Firefighters rushed to the scene of the three-alarm blaze at 21-23 Brookfield St., which was first reported in a 911 call around 3 p.m. Friday as being at 11 Brookfield St.

The fire tore through the roof and gutted the building’s second and third stories, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky, shown in photos of the scene tweeted Saturday by Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty. The fire also damaged three nearby homes.

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Crews battled high winds and had to strike multiple alarms because of the intensity of the blaze in the tightly packed neighborhood, Moriarty said in an interview Saturday.

One firefighter was injured after a fall and went home early, Moriarty said.

The Sept. 13 Merrimack Valley gas disaster left a teenager dead in Lawrence, many injured across the region, and cost Columbia Gas more than $1 billion.

The Brookfield Street structure, which was previously damaged by the disaster, had been without gas service since September, according to Columbia Gas. Friday’s fire was not related to the gas explosions, authorities said.

“It was definitely suspicious, as the building was boarded up,” Moriarty said.

Bob Wilson, Lawrence’s deputy fire chief, told the Globe Friday that officials from the state fire marshal’s office spoke to a group of children about the fire.

“The building was secure, it was a boarded-up building, but it apparently wasn’t secured enough,” Wilson said. “It was not accidental by the kids.”

Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office, declined comment Saturday about the children. The fire remained under investigation Saturday afternoon, she said.

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Records on file with the Northern Essex Registry of Deeds indicate the property is owned by Raymond Maynard of Lawrence. Maynard could not be reached Saturday.

Moriarty said crews had opened up the home’s walls in September during firefighting efforts, which made it easier for flames to spread Friday in the boarded-up building, he said.

Dozens of firefighters worked at the scene Friday, where they operated at least 10 engines and three ladder trucks, Moriarty said. The Lawrence Fire Department also received mutual aid from several other communities.

“I always like to say how proud I am about firefighters,” he said. “Yesterday proved how solid of a team they are.”

Winds in the Lawrence area were blowing at 20 miles per hour around 3 p.m. Friday, with gusts of up to 33 miles per hour, said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Those gusts increased to as much as 42 miles per hour at 4 p.m., Simpson said.

Videos of the fire posted to Facebook revealed the extent of the damage Friday: Firefighters used hoses to pour water on the burning structure, while a column of gray and black smoke rose above the neighborhood blotting out large portions of the sky.

The sight of the burned house shook Cook, 65, who returned home Friday afternoon in time to see the smoldering ruin, around the corner from her Bowdoin Street home, where she’s lived for more than two decades. Hot ash covered the ground and parked cars, she said.

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It also brought back memories of September’s catastrophe, Cook said.

“I’m a senior citizen, I get a little nervous when I smell smoke,” said Cook, who credited the efforts of firefighters. “They worked very hard on it, they were tremendous.”

Pamela Beaton, who is a tenant in Cook’s house, watched the fire destroy the building. She felt intense heat from the fire, she said, and photographed the scene with her phone.

Beaton recalled thinking, “I hope it doesn’t hit my house.”

As police blocked traffic and firefighters battled the blaze, other crews went around with hoses to pour water on nearby houses to help protect them from burning embers, she said.

“I thought they did a great job” keeping the fire from spreading, she said.


Globe correspondent Amanda Kaufman contributed to this report. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard @globe.com.