LOWELL, Mass. — A fast-moving fire ravaged a three-story apartment building before dawn Thursday, killing four adults and three children, forcing tenants to jump or hand their children to safety, and leading to dramatic rescues from upper floors.
Authorities are looking into witness reports that the sound of exploding fireworks preceded the blaze, as well as a man's claim that a brother who died in the fire kept fireworks in his apartment.
The victims in this former mill city about 25 miles northwest of Boston were all found in units on the top floor of the building. Nine people were hospitalized with injuries not considered life threatening.
Authorities say 48 people lived in the building, which had a liquor store on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. The roof entirely burned away, with the outer walls charred and the siding melted. Firefighters had to evacuate at one point as the roof gave way.
A police officer on routine patrol was the first to report the fire, while several tenants ran about 100 yards down the street to a fire station to sound the alarm, fire Chief Edward Pitta said. But the building was fully involved by the time firefighters arrived.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said she is "deeply concerned" by reports from witnesses that no fire alarms sounded in the building. Whether it was working will be part of the investigation, Ryan said.
State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said authorities are looking into the reports of fireworks but have not determined where or how the blaze started. Massachusetts law bars individuals from possessing fireworks, but they are legal just across the border in New Hampshire.