City firefighters rescued two adults and a baby trapped by a door that was nailed shut inside a burning two-family house on Second Avenue Tuesday morning.
All three escaped unharmed after firefighters used axes to break through. Another resident who escaped on her own suffered a cut to her arm.
Police said the fire at 1110 Second Ave. was deliberately set and is under investigation. Deputy Fire Chief Raymond Senecal said the fire began on the front porch and had engulfed the front of the house up to the second floor by the time firefighters arrived shortly after 6 a.m.
First-floor resident Shirley Flanders, who cut her arm escaping, was outside when firefighters arrived and she told them people were still inside the burning house, officials said.
“She is screaming there are people in the house. We did not know they were trapped, but we concentrated our efforts on extricating them,” Senecal said.
While one fire crew fought the fire, other crews tried to enter the house through the rear. They found the nailed-shut door on the first floor, Senecal said. The second floor rear door also was nailed shut.
They took down the door and found the people behind it, rescuing 27-year-old Rashawn Harris, 19-year-old Tiffany Melendez and 10-month-old Kayshawn Harris, all of whom lived upstairs.
Senecal said the entire building was filled with heavy smoke. “It could have been a whole different story in two or three minutes,” he said.
Senecal said the occupants knew the doors were nailed shut. He said the reason was security. “They said they had been broken into in the past. It almost cost them their lives,” he said.
The house received some fire, smoke and water damage but is salvageable, Senecal said. Firefighters took about 15 minutes to douse the fire, he said. Officials Tuesday evening said evidence suggests it was intentionally set. Furniture and other items were on the porch, but none of the residents were on the porch.
The Red Cross is providing temporary shelter to Harris and Flanders, said spokeswoman Siobhan Gallagher. The whereabouts of the young woman and child are unknown.
“We are providing them with a place to stay and giving them financial assistance for food and clothing,” Gallagher said.
The Red Cross has been stretched thin by recent disasters, Gallagher said. The fire was one of three events the agency contended with in the last 24 hours, she said. The other two involved helping a family flooded out by rain and a family whose house was hit by lightning. The latter case proved minor. She also mentioned the assistance the Red Cross provided to 33 people displaced by a Memorial Day fire in Waterford.
“There have been so many disasters we exhausted our budget by April,” Gallagher said. “We sent out an appeal and got good response, but we are running behind our fiscal goals.”
The Red Cross will still be able to deliver services despite its fiscal crunch, Gallagher said. The agency is receiving support from the national office, she said.
The local Red Cross office, which provides services in nine counties, usually spends approximately $700 a day on local disaster relief, Gallagher said. “In some cases, we have spent two to three times that amount every day for a month,” she said. “Things like that happens to budgets, but our services are unaffected. Our local chapter has strong community support.”