One person was killed in a fire that destroyed the Lorraine Apartments and Temple Ahavat Achim on Middle Street in Gloucester early Saturday morning.

One person was killed in a fire that destroyed the Lorraine Apartments and Temple Ahavat Achim on Middle Street in Gloucester early Saturday morning.


The four-story apartment building at the corner of Middle and School streets collapsed during the fire. The victim lived in the building, which housed 22 people. According to the Red Cross, all other residents have been accounted for.


The victim’s name has not been released.


The temple, located just feet from the apartment building, was engulfed in flames and destroyed by the fire.


 


 



 


 


 



The Sawyer Free Library, which is directly behind the temple, sustained some smoke and water damage but did not burn.


Witnesses said they saw flames in the apartment building first. When that building was fully engulfed, a burning wall toppled onto the temple next door.


Virginia Gibney, who lives on Mason Street, said her husband, Fred, woke her up around midnight. From their third-floor window, they could see smoke coming out of one of the windows of the apartment building. A few minutes later they saw flames in one of the stairwell windows. They heard several popping noises, then the fire erupted.


“It went so fast,” she said. “I was nervous for our house.”


The Gibneys and other neighbors were able to remain in their homes, although many lost phone service and electricity for a time after the fire.


The power went out at the Central Grammar Apartments, a senior housing complex on Dale Avenue, next to the Sawyer Free Library. Resident Elsie Landergren said officials knocked on all the doors and told residents to be ready to evacuate to City Hall or to Fuller School.


“Then it was under control and we didn’t have to go,” she said.


Gibney said they saw one apartment resident standing in the street and asked if she wanted to come into their house, but the woman said she was going to stay with her daughter.


The Red Cross provided a temporary shelter Saturday for about five apartment residents. The disaster organization planned to provide hotel rooms for those who needed them Saturday night. Most were staying with relatives and friends.


Firefighters kept spraying water on the Trinity Congregational Church to protect it from the flames. While some small panes of glass were broken on the church’s outer windows, it appears the building escaped major damage. That church, located across School Street from the Lorraine Apartments, had been rebuilt in the 1970s after it was destroyed by a fire.


According to the book "Antique Houses of Gloucester" by Prudence Fish, the Lorraine Apartments were built in 1910 as a state-of-the-art hospital. A few years later, the building was converted to apartments.


On Saturday morning, all that remained of the Lorraine Apartments was a four-story elevator shaft. Smoke and steam still poured from the building’s foundation as firefighters continued to spray water to extinguish the smouldering embers.


Several walls of the temple were still standing, the white clapboards streaked with smoke. The roof had fallen in, and a few small flames occasionally licked at the window casings. Firefighters continued to hose down that building as well.


A white smoky haze enveloped the downtown area from Middle Street down to the harbor. Central Street and parts of Middle and Central streets were closed to traffic, but many pedestrians made their way down to witness the damage.


With temperatures in the 20s, ice from the firefighting efforts coated all the trees near the scene and covered many streets and sidewalks.


The street In front of the Central Fire Station on School Street, which faced the fire scene, was full of firefighters and apparatus, as well as utility workers with bucket trucks and backhoes who were restoring power and checking on gas lines.


Gov. Deval Patrick toured the scene and met with Mayor John Bell and Mayor-elect Carolyn Kirk, who takes office Jan. 1. He was accompanied by state Sen. Bruce Tarr, Fire Chief Barry McKay, and an official from the state fire marshall’s office.


Patrick addressed the members of Temple Ahavat Achim who had gathered at the Unitarian-Universalist Church on Middle Street for their Saturday morning service.


“I just want to say how sorry I am,” he said.


Although the building was lost, “There is a community here that has not been lost,” the governor said. He told the congregation that many people, some whom they know, some whom they don’t, have pledged to help them recover. “Don’t feel alone,” he said.


“Celebrate the strength of this community and how it endures,” Patrick said.


Rabbi Samuel Barth, who has led Temple Ahavat Achim for about a year, said the temple is planning to rebuild. “Out of the trouble here we’ll grow closer,” he said.