NORTHAMPTON — Flames billowed from the third-floor porch of a wooden, multi-unit building near the heart of downtown as neighbors watched firefighters from across the region battle a three-alarm blaze Tuesday morning.
Crews from Northampton, Easthampton, Amherst, South Deerfield, Hadley, Williamsburg and Westover Air Reserve Base responded to the fire at 46 Graves Ave., which was reported at 8:41 a.m., officials said. About 30 to 40 firefighters were at the scene.
The fire was under control by 9 a.m., though emergency responders continued to douse the building with water and search for hot spots. Authorities said the fire was caused by improper disposal of smoking materials.
Assistant Fire Chief Jon Davine said there were no injuries, though six residents were displaced. The American Red Cross is assisting the victims.
Christa Douaihy was one of them. The first-floor resident was on her way to work when she learned of the fire while scrolling through her emails.
Despite the loss of her home, which she only recently moved into from New York, Douaihy praised emergency responders while a firefighter helped her remove belongings from the first-floor condominium.
“They’ve saved the building because of their heroic efforts,” she said. “They were all so compassionate.”
The second-floor resident, Janvier Rollande, was home when the blaze began and alerted her neighbors. She had awoken earlier than usual Tuesday and planned on grabbing a cup of coffee. When she left the building, she noticed embers on the ground. Then an area resident ran up and yelled at her to get out of the house.
Instead, Rollande double-backed to rescue Moki, her 15-year-old long-haired Chihuahua. Only then did she seek safety — for the both of them.
“Well, I’m not crying right now, but I have been crying,” Rollande, who had spent the past few months renovating her home, said Tuesday afternoon. “Right now, I’m numb.”
Neighbors were shook up by the day’s events. Residents of the densely packed neighborhood flocked out into the street to watch firefighters work. The three units were individually owned condominiums, each valued at $260,000, for a total of $780,000 for the property, according to the Northampton assessor’s office.
“It’s heart-wrenching to see the flames shooting into the air,” said Susan Parker, a neighbor and longtime resident who watched the fire from her home across the street on Graves Avenue.
Nearby Market Street was closed until about 10:40 a.m. while crews battled the blaze.
Fire officials later estimated the cost of damages at $450,000.
Surrounded by firefighters — some still coughing and covered in the white, ashen-looking remains of the building’s insulation, while others handed out bottled water — Davine described the difficulties crews faced in taking control of the situation. Graves Avenue is narrow, making it hard for emergency vehicles to navigate, and the residence is surrounded by similar wooden buildings.
“It’s a tough street,” Davine said. “It’s a dead-end street.”
Had the fire threatened nearby buildings, firefighters would have put up what’s called a “water curtain” to prevent it from spreading, he said.
“It’s a big fire and we’ve got multiple fire crews working,” Davine said as firefighters dug into the charred remains of the roof from their perch on a ladder truck. “That’s a lot of accountability for us.”
Emergency responders removed the building’s washer and dryer, and put up tarps to try to prevent water damage to units on the lower levels. Meanwhile, utility crews shut off power and gas to the building.
Firefighters, several called back after finishing their shifts, watched the building until mid-afternoon. Their task was simple: Make sure the fire didn’t flare up again. After routine patrols of the building, they went back to keeping an eye on the blackened structure from a nearby lot with a tanker engine. The building has been cordoned off by police tape.
Parker said it had recently been converted from apartments to condominiums, which was confirmed by Douaihy and Rollande.
“We just moved in,” Rollande said.
Residents already are discussing how best to aid their new neighbors, she said.
“Our hearts break; people have just moved in,” Parker said. “It’s really heartbreaking.”
Derrick Perkins may be reached at email@example.com.