An early morning fire Wednesday left five families homeless -- but counting their blessings that everyone escaped unscathed.

The families, more than 20 people from two homes on Varney Street, were removed safely to the Senior Center in Lowell.

The fire started in the second floor of the rear of 71 Varney and intense flames shooting 20 feet ignited a nearby home.

Wind and ice made putting the 4-alarmer out more difficult, officials said.

Related: Seven died, including 3 kids in July 2014 Lowell fire .

The blaze, which started around 11 p.m. Tuesday, is under investigation and there were no injuries.

Residents of Lowell know all too well it could have been worse: Seven people died, including three children, in a fire last July at 81-85 Branch St.