WHITMAN — The night of the fire heavy black smoke could be seen from Route 58 in Hanson — the sounds of sirens rang from all directions — as fire apparatus from all over the South Shore helped battle a raging house fire at 316-18 Commercial St., on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
Word spread quickly that the three-story wooden structure was crumbling to the ground, siding melted down to the foundation along with it — destroying personal processions and mementos of approximately a dozen residents.
Remarkably no one was injured in the fire, reported by a resident through 911 just before 8 p.m. The blaze drew 80 firefighters and 15 departments from around the south shore.
“Upon arrival heavy flames were coming from a second-story window. The fire was spreading to the third floor and simultaneously burning the wooden deck outside of the window,” said Whitman Fire Chief Timothy J. Grenno.
Deputy Chief Joe Feeney immediately struck a second alarm — a call for more assistance to the scene — due to the building structure and size. Chief Grenno called for additional mutual aid from other towns, striking a fifth alarm at approximately 9:25 p.m.
Hundreds of onlookers and media flooded the street filming the flames as they seem to propel from every gap of the structure. Residents lined the doorways and lawns dressed in pajamas, some wore white face masks as they shook their heads to evade the gusts of smoke, that mixed with snowflakes as the night progressed.
They Lost everything
“People have been amazing,” said resident Hannah Fabian who has spent most of the last week in a daze filling out paperwork and trying to piece her life back together. Along with several other families in the building they have seen a vast amount of support as they start to rebuild.
Fabian, who was home when the fire started, had rented in the Whitman apartment building for less than six months with her boyfriend and two sons. Her cousin, David, and his daughter who is 11 and a middle school student in Whitman, rented an apartment on the lower level. Fabian had asked him to check her apartment when the boys, who were getting ready to visit their father, smelled burning plastic – within seconds smoke billowed from her bathroom. They all ran out of the building while the smoke alarms blared and called the fire department.
“When we got out of the house it was already completely covered in smoke. It went up in what seemed liked seconds,” said Fabian. “I tried to stay calm for the kids but I couldn’t help it we all were crying.”
She left the fire scene after her sons, who are ages 8 and 11, were picked up by their father. She wore a red hoodie over her face and had a friend, who like her also has severe asthma, give Fabian an inhaler as her own medicine was left behind in the burning building.
David was trying to gather his tools outside the building as he sprayed a fire extinguisher, she said.
Fabian has received monetary help through a GoFundMe account a friend has created, but there are things that can’t ever be replaced like baby books and photo albums, she said.
Battling the blaze
Firefighters battled the blaze and successfully prevented it from spreading to nearby homes. The heaviest flames were knocked down by approximately 9:30 p.m., said Grenno.
Several neighbors who viewed the intensity of the scene from parallel driveways used cell phones to document the fire, as they trained a watchful eye on their own homes.
Residents displaced by the fire were assisted by the American Red Cross — who responded to the scene.
The building, a total loss has since been demolished. Early estimates of the loss have totaled upwards of $1 million dollars in loss, according to Grenno.
The preliminary investigation indicated that the fire started in a second floor apartment. The cause of the fire is under investigation by Whitman Fire and investigators from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (DFS).
They were continuing their investigation Thursday Feb. 14, but at this time it does not appear to be suspicious. Grenno said that he did not know when the last fire inspection was done at the building, but that it had previously been up to code.
“This fire spread extremely fast and I want to commend our firefighters and those from our surrounding communities who responded to help put this fire out as quickly as they did,” Grenno said. “We are thankful that no one was hurt and that all residents were quickly able to be accounted for.”
As of Tuesday Feb. 19 the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Crews worked to overhaul the house and extinguish hot spots until approximately 12:30 a.m. Thursday Feb. 14. The scene was cleared later in the day and an engine from Whitman remained on fire watch over night.
Firefighters from the following communities responded to assist on the call: Hanson, Abington, East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, Bridgewater, Rockland, Brockton, Norwell, Hanover, Halifax, Hingham, Holbrook, Randolph, Marshfield, Avon and Pembroke.
In addition, the Whitman Police Department, Whitman Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), DFS Rehabilitation Unit and Boston Sparks Association A-10 also responded to the scene.
Austin Gould, a first grader at Conley School in Whitman, heard about the fire on Wednesday and when he arrived at school on Thursday he asked if he could talk to his school Principal Karen Downey.
“He came in to see me and said ‘Well did you know there was a big fire?’ My heart melted …” said Downey.
Gould explained that he remembered Downey telling them that they can help make a difference in other kids’ lives and that was his goal. He wanted to help the kids who lost everything in the fire.
Downey has always stood by the lessons of education for her students however she also wants them to become good citizens, she said.
Her reaction upon hearing his objective to benefit the victims was one of pride
“Wow! They are hearing me,” she said. “I was so impressed with the willingness and earnestness from such a wonderful little guy. Knowing they are absorbing all the lessons that are being taught by word and example is spreading pride through the Whitman schools.”
Also students at Conley School, James and Charlotte Kleinman planned a lemonade stand to raise funds.