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Pittsfield Moves To Secure Vacant White Terrace Apartments After Another Fire

A fire truck sits in front of a burnt out building
Josh Landes

The city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts says it’s taking action to secure a downtown building after yet another fire in its long history broke out last night.

Just before midnight on Wednesday, the Pittsfield Fire Department reported to 592 North Street – the vacant White Terrace apartment complex – to battle a significant fire.

“We arrived with heavy smoke coming from the entire fourth floor in the eaves of the building with heavy fire on the first floor and the right side of the front of the building," said Deputy Chief Neil Myers. “On scene, we put guys right to work fighting the fire. We deemed it exterior operations only right away due to that it's a vacant building and fire was already well involved in the upper floors. And we worked our way through just to establish some water supplies. Opened up windows. All the windows on the fourth floor were boarded up, or either glass or boarded up. So we had to gain access to get water up into there and gain access into the attic space up top. The fire got into the attic, and it just spread throughout the whole attic of the building.”

The fire is suspected to have begun somewhere on the first floor of the complex.

“There’s three buildings in the complex," said Myers. "This building's burned twice in the last, I'd say, 20 years. I don't know when the last fire was. We had the middle building burn about four years ago, and then the last building up in the back burned about probably 14 years ago.”

The effort to contain the blaze – which attracted around 40 firefighters from Pittsfield as well as Lenox and Hinsdale – brought some minor casualties.

“Couple of the officers got some smoke inhalation early on in the firefight," said the deputy chief. "They were treated on scene and transported to BMC. They've both been released, are doing OK. One of the guys got caught with a piece of glass that fell down, cut through his glove and sliced his hand. He was treated on scene and continued working and one other firefighters suffered an elbow injury. But he was again, continued working.”

Myers says it’s the biggest fire the department has fought this year.

“It's a very large fire," he told WAMC. "We generally do a couple dozen or maybe a dozen double alarm fires a year. This is one is a third alarm, which is one step closer to full scale general alarm for the department. So it's a very large incident. It was 5, 6 hours. They're still there now looking for hotspots for the long term operation like this, a large building. Large volumes of water going into this building, large amounts of mutual aid. A lot of call-ins for off duty guys. So yes, it's a large scale incident for us.”

The Massachusetts State Police are investigating the origins of the fire.

“At this time, there was no evidence that there was anyone in the building. We have not received any complaints from the property owner or nearby neighbors about anyone accessing the buildings. Certainly we have had complaints about people on the property, and we do our best to manage that within the realm of our scope of authority," said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer. “Right now, the most important thing is to secure the property from anyone accessing it in an unsafe manner. So putting fencing around boarding until the windows can be boarded up, continuing to expect the current owner to maintain the property so that it is not accessible in any manner. In the meantime, we will continue to work with this proposed developer who would like to take all three buildings and convert them into affordable housing units.”

Myers says the fire is a reminder to the community to report fires as quickly as possible to the department.

“If you see fire, call it in," he told WAMC. "We only got one call on this fire I know was the middle of night, 11:30, but, you know anytime you see something like this that’s out of the ordinary, give a call, get us there early. This fire had been going for quite a while before we got there.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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