11 displaced by fire

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 22, 2005

When she first saw flashing red lights bouncing off her bedroom walls, Lourdes Inglesias

thought she was dreaming.

Turned out, it was a nightmare for neighbors who rented apartments in a rambling, three-story house near her Wellons Street home.

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Fire roared through the apartment house early Friday morning, destroying the 76-year-old building at 121 Wellons St. that housed 11 people. Everyone, including a dog, safely escaped the fire, said Capt. Jim T. Judkins, spokesman for the Suffolk Fire Department.

Clusters of neighbors and residents gathered on the sidewalk through the night, watching as firefighters evacuated nearby homes and began battling the blaze.

&uot;It was pretty scary when I first saw the flames shooting up from the roof and … realized how close they were to my house,&uot; said Inglesias, who videotaped the devastating blaze. &uot;The firefighters were in control; it was impressive to see them doing their job.&uot;

Firefighters arriving around 3:15 a.m. found columns of smoke and flame shooting through the house, said Judkins. Despite attempts to control the blaze to one apartment, the fire quickly spread through the entire house.

The fire started after a resident, hungry after coming in from work, boiled water for soup, Judkins said. Shortly after turning the stove on, the man heard the smoke alarm, spotted the fire and began waking his neighbors and family members up, Judkins said.

Ironically, batteries in all the building smoke detectors were just replaced two days ago, said Hubert Young, president of Young Properties, the building’s owner. The company checks all smoke detectors on all its rental properties annually as part of its standard maintenance operations, he said.

&uot;We are just thankful no one was hurt,&uot; Young said. &uot;We were pretty lucky.&uot;

Young’s regular maintenance of the smoke detectors could well be responsible for saving 11 lives, Judkins said.

&uot;If there was ever a bargain, a smoke detector is it,&uot; Judkins. &uot;These $5 smoke detectors may have saved the people.&uot;

Thea Haithcock, who just moved into her apartment this week, is grateful she and her neighbors escaped alive. Although the Red Cross is putting her family up in a hotel for the next couple of days, she is unsure about the future.

&uot;It was terrifying. Everything we owned was in that house,&uot; she said. &uot;We now have nothing, not even identification.

&uot;We got out with the jeans we grabbed on the way out of the house … and none of us have renters insurance. I don’t know what we are going to do.&uot;