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Mass. house fire reveals more illegal apartments

11 people were displaced in the latest fire in Lawrence that involved illegal apartments in the basement, attic

By Jill Harmacinski
The Eagle-Tribune

LAWRENCE, Mass. — Two more illegal apartments were discovered in a Bodwell Street multifamily home where a fire broke out early Sunday morning, officials said.

Eleven people were displaced by the fire, three of whom required urgent relocation assistance.

The questionable apartments were found in the basement and attic of the home and are being investigated by inspectional services and fire inspectors, said Fire Chief Brian Moriarty.

Moriarty said the discovery of such illegal apartments remains a recurring issue for both fires and firefighters.

The fire at 4 a.m. Sunday is believed to have started accidentally when combustible items were left too close to an electric wall heater in a basement apartment, Moriarty said.

Firefighters quickly knocked down the fire.

The majority of those displaced sought temporary accommodations with friends or family. The three remaining needed relocation assistance, said City Council President Jeovanny Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was acting mayor Sunday as Mayor Brian DePena had been out of the city for more than three days. When the mayor leaves the city for more than three consecutive days, the city council president assumes the role of acting mayor, per the city charter.

“It is crucial to note that an elderly woman was living in the attic and requires specialized attention,” Rodriguez wrote in a press release.

In addition to firefighters, police and building, plumbing and electrical inspectors, a community development team and Kelly Frazier, the city’s homeless coordinator, responded to the fire.

Rodriguez said all city workers were “collectively ensuring the safety and well-being of both victims and residents in the area.”

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He said he also personally inspected the home and scene and “commends the collaborative efforts of these teams, emphasizing the city’s commitment to supporting affected residents.”

“Resources and services are actively engaged to manage the situation and ensure the well-being of those impacted,” Rodriguez said.

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Rodriguez said 85 percent of Lawrence residents live in rented homes. He stressed the urgent need and importance of renter’s insurance.

He said renter’s insurance is important to safeguard “both their personal belongings and liability in unforeseen situations.”

In January, Lawrence firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue a resident from an illegal third-floor apartment in a multi-family home at 170 Salem St.

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The same ladder was then used to rescue two firefighters who became disoriented in a maze of hallways and stairwells in the Victorian-style home as they sought to rescue the man.

There were three minor injuries and 15 people left homeless by that two-alarm blaze.

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