FITCHBURG -- Two people were killed and a third remains hospitalized after a fire ripped through a home at 53 East St. Sunday night, according to Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.
Lisa Englehart, 39, and Christopher Brinkley, 22, were pronounced dead at HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine the cause and manner of death for each victim.
Frank Huckins Sr., 65, was transported to HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, where he was listed in critical condition in the intensive-care unit. Six other residents escaped and were uninjured.
Josue Gonzalez said he was talking to his girlfriend on the phone just after 11:20 p.m. when he and his aunt smelled smoke.
Gonzalez, 18, of 36 East St., said he rushed outside to see all of East Street filled with heavy smoke.
He said he ran over to 53 East St., when he heard someone yelling for help and saw an older man leaning against a black truck in the driveway and smoke pouring from the home.
Gonzalez said he went through the front door and found a younger man who told him there were two more people inside.
" 'Sir, you have to get out, you have to get out,' " he recalled saying to the man. "He said, 'No, no, there's two people inside. You have to go get them.' "
Gonzalez said he was wearing only sandals, shorts and a T-shirt at the time. He tried to walk farther into the home but found the heat was too much. Instead, he pulled the man out of the home, and as soon as they made it across the street, the house burst into flames, he said.
"I couldn't go back in and help the other two," Gonzalez said.
According to Fire Chief Kevin Roy, as soon as crews arrived about 11:30 p.m., they were met with heavy smoke and could see the entire first floor engulfed in flames that extended to the second floor. There were reports of multiple people trapped.
Roy said two people living in the basement apartment of the building had already left, and the five people living on the first floor -- a woman and two young boys, both younger than 12 -- escaped. The mother and her children escaped through a window, and her husband and his father got out the front door.
Roy said firefighters fought the flames on the first floor, put their ladders up and made their way up to the second floor, where they found two victims in two separate rooms.
He said the man was found deceased and was brought down the front stairs, and the woman was removed from the building through a second-floor window and taken down by a ladder.
Roy said both were turned over to EMS and transported to HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster, where they were pronounced dead.
Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan, confirmed two fatalities and another person seriously injured.
"The investigation is ongoing, and we're focusing on an accidental cause," she said.
Building owner Charles Huckins of Leominster, the brother of Frank Huckins Sr., said he has owned the house for about 10 years due to an arrangement with his brother.
"He ran into trouble with foreclosure, and I helped him out to buy the house and put the mortgage in my name, and he continued to stay in the house and pay me rent, and I paid the mortgage," he said.
Charles Huckins said his brother was admitted to HealthAlliance Hospital in Leominster for smoke inhalation and a small facial burn.
He said his brother's son, Frank Huckins Jr., also lived at the house with his wife, Karen, and their two boys, as well as his wife's son, Brinkley. Englehart is Karen Huckins' sister, whom Charles Huckins said was visiting the family.
Roy said the firefighters "did a very good job" and worked quickly to search the entire building through tough conditions that included zero visibility, heavy fire and heavy heat, much of it due to a large amount of combustibles, namely large amounts of clothing and furniture, in the house. He said some firefighters' gear was scorched, but none was injured.
"Every effort was being made to get these people," Roy said. "We certainly don't want to lose people."
He said the fire, unfortunately, was well under way by the time the Fire Department was alerted.
"None of our people reported smoke alarms working there," Roy said.
Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Curran said the fire spread to neighboring 55 East St., where some overhauling was needed, but damage was not extensive. He said a man at that address assisted a woman and two children out of a first-floor window.
A man and a woman at 55 East St. declined to speak to reporters Monday morning.
Curran said firefighters left the scene Monday about 9 a.m., finding all flames and hot spots extinguished, but were called back about a half hour later due to reports of smoke coming from the roof of 53 East St. He said it was likely caused by smoldering, displaced insulation, and was quickly taken care of.
Curran leads Group 4, which worked Monday. He said Group 3, led by Deputy Chief David Rousseau, responded to the fire Sunday night, and Groups 1 and 2 were also recalled to the scene. Roy said Fitchburg had four engines and one ladder on the scene, which were assisted by an engine and a ladder from Leominster.
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