Seven people including three children were killed in a horrific early morning fire that raged through a Lowell apartment building on Thursday that sent people jumping and dropping from windows to escape the smoke and flames.
The fire broke out after 3 a.m. at 81-85 Branch St. in Lowell, authorities said. The building housed several apartments as well as businesses on the first floor.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said at a noon news conference that four adults and three children were killed in the blaze. The victims were found in two different apartments on the third floor of the rear of the building.
At a news conference late Thursday afternoon, Ryan said authorities believe that everyone had been accounted for, but that trained cadaver dogs would be brought in for a final search of the building.
Also at the late afternoon news conference, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said investigators were still trying to determine a cause, which could take a while.
"This is a very methodical process and it will take some time," Coan said, adding that investigators have not yet found the origin of the fire.
As part of the investigation, authorities are interviewing residents and the building's owner. They will also look at the building's history, work that has been done there and any violations that may be there. Additionally, fire officials will look at whether a fire alarm system was working and will examine reports that a resident was storing fireworks in the building.
At one point during the fire, firefighters were ordered out of the building as parts of the roof started to collapse, said fire officials. One firefighter suffered a leg injury.
Multiple people were rescued by Lowell police and firefighters from the building and nine people were taken to local hospitals for injuries that were not life-threatening.
Emergency crews were alerted to the fire by 9-1-1 calls, by a police officer on patrol who spotted it and by either residents or passersby who ran to a fire station about 100 yards away from the building.
The building did not have a sprinkler system and was not required to, said Coan. He did say there was a fire alarm system, but it is up to investigators to determine if it was working.
"We are beginning today what I expect will be a long and thorough review of this building," said Ryan. "A forensic review of the alarm system within this building seeking to determine cause and origin of this fire."
This is the deadliest fire in Massachusetts in nearly 20 years. Coan said the last time a fire claimed the lives of this many people in Massachusetts was a Christmas Eve fire in 1994 in North Attleboro.
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