ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Charlene Theodore gathers belongings from her apartment at 22 W. Baltimore St. with Lynn Firefighter Josh Rankins.
By THOMAS GRILLO
LYNN — Two dozen former tenants of the 22 W. Baltimore St. building destroyed by a New Year’s Day fire returned to their apartments on Thursday to retrieve what’s left of their belongings.
“Oh my God,” said Charlene Theodore as she and her husband John sorted through the remains of their one-bedroom apartment. “We were able to save some clothes and a few tax receipts. I’m so excited we got something.”
As residents made their way into their homes for the first time since Sunday accompanied by firefighters, they stepped over collapsed ceilings, broken glass, shattered furniture and charred, icy floor boards.
In unit 12A Jeffrey Barton, who had moved into the four-story building last summer, said given the intensity of the fire, he was amazed anything was spared.
“I’m not going to waste a lot of time grabbing stuff that’s soaked and destroyed like my record and CD collection, that’s a bummer,” he said. “But honestly, those are material things and I’m not worried about it.”
He grabbed pictures off the walls and paperwork and exited the unit after 15 minutes.
“The fact that I can stand in here for a few minutes and grab some things when so many people lost everything is really something,” Barton said.
Waqas Ali, a third floor resident, said he was saved from the fire and rushed to the hospital suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, but managed to recover. He retrieved clothes and shoes, but was unable to save some valuable documents that were destroyed by water.
“Something is better than nothing,” he said. “I’m just glad to be alive.”
The six-alarm morning electrical blaze started in a bathroom exhaust fan on the first floor, according to the State Fire Marshal. It destroyed the roof and much of the interior of the yellow brick building, in what the district fire chief called a total loss, leaving the occupants homeless. The property is owned by Federal Five Realty Trust and Dominic Federico of Somerville and is assessed at $1.9 million, according to city records.
Roody Augustin, a 54-year-old cab driver who lived on the second floor, saved clothes, art pieces and some furniture.
“I had a new bed and I really didn’t want to lose it,” he said.
Before being escorted into the building, District Fire Chief Steven Archer told tenants that hopefully everyone will be able to get into their apartments to see what could be reclaimed.
“Some of you, depending on the conditions, especially on the fourth floor as you can see, for safety reasons, may not be able to get into those units,” he said. “If we say you can’t get in, it’s because there is nothing salvageable.”
Minutes later, Archer returned with the bad news for former fourth floor dwellers.
“The ceiling collapsed on top of debris and we had to climb over burnt timbers to save a few family pictures,” Archer said. “There is nothing there and we can’t get you through. I’m sorry.”
Billy Tuloe, a fourth floor resident, who was at work at Logan International Airport when the fire broke out, hoped to retrieve $10,000 worth of DJ equipment.
“I work as a DJ at night and that’s how I make extra money and I have five computers up there that I hoped to get,” he said. “Now, I’m not sure what I’ll do.”
Thomas Grillo can be reached at [email protected]