Winds fanned the flames of an apartment fire on Merrimack Street early Monday that forced the evacuation of several families from their homes as fire threatened to encroach on nearby residences.
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The fire, which went to the equivalent of a fourth alarm, was reported early Monday morning around 5 a.m. at 368-374 Merrimack St. Fire officials evacuated buildings and shut down traffic from Laurel to Manchester Street, and Beech Street to Wilson Street.
District Fire Chief Hank Martineau said fire crews encountered heavy fire upon arrival on the second and third floors of the three-story building.
“Fire was blowing out all the windows on the second floor,” Martineau said.
Due to the volume of the fire crews were unable to reach the third floor, and had to back off, Martineau said. Initially some residents thought there were still occupants on the third floor, but Martineau said they were able to confirm that occupants of apartment 6 were safe, and staying with friends.
“Everyone’s accounted for,” Martineau said.
Wind conditions and cold, as well as slippery roadways due to persistent freezing rain added a challenge for fire crews, Martineau said, and a brief issue with water pressure was resolved. Manchester Water Works was also at the scene. Also a challenge was access for the ladder truck.
“It’s a tight space, but we were able to make access from Manchester Street to the rear of the building where the fire extended,” Martineau said.
Based on initial investigation, it appears smoking was the cause.
“A resident told the fire marshal he was smoking in bed on the second floor,” Martineau said.
Early on there was exposure to a residence on the right side of the building, but crews were able to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading.
Two firefighters were injured, Martineau said. One suffered an injury to the side of his face when he was hit with an object, and another firefighter passed out at the scene. That firefighter was transported for treatment at a nearby hospital.
Manchester Police assisted the fire department with road closures – a segment of Manchester Street will remain closed for the next several hours. The American Red Cross is assisting at least two adults and two children displaced by the blaze.