Lynn Fire Chief Stephen Archer said the fire started at 1-3 Moulton St. shortly before 7 p.m. and quickly spread next door to 5 Moulton. By 8 p.m., large portions of both triple decker homes had collapsed and Archer feared the heavy flames would spread to a third building as well.
That home, 7 Moulton, ultimately sustained heat and water damage, and the siding to a fourth home on Boston Street was also damaged from the fire, Fire Capt. Joseph Zukas said.
The blaze, which may have started on one of the back porches of the initial home, was first spotted by a Lynn fire crew that had been returning to the station after responding to another 911 call.
"(There was) heavy fire showing," said Archer. "We began our search through the building and then we had to pull out because of the presence of the body of fire."
The rapid advance of the fire presented challenges for crews, who were further hindered by water problems in the area. Archer said the lack of water pressure could have been due to hydrants and mains that were too small or firefighters were pulling more lines than the system could handle.
Although the fire was under control by 9:30 p.m., crews from Lynn and surrounding departments were still battling "hot spots," and there was some concern that 1-3 Moulton, where the flames originated, was in danger of a total collapse, Zukas said.
Both 1-3 and 5 Moulton St. are uninhabitable and Red Cross was on scene assisting with placing at least two dozen residents of the three-family homes. Opening a shelter at the Salvation Army was being considered as an option for the evening due to the large amount of people left without a home, Zukas said.
Two Lynn firefighters with minor injuries were taken to Salem Hospital, with one suffering from shoulder injury and another with a knee injury, Zukas said. No residents were injured and it appears everyone was able to self-evacuate, Archer said.
Lynn was assisted by fire departments from all surrounding communities, along with crews from Chelsea, Boston, Malden and Melrose, Zukas said.
Craig Lander, a Revere resident, said he was driving by when he noticed the heavy flames on the first home. He immediately pulled over and tried to alert the residents inside that they needed to get out, while urging another passerby to call 911.
Lander had been taking a walk on the beach at Lynn Shore Drive, and the destruction made him desperate to go home and hug his kids.
"God, I hope everyone got out of there," said Lander, as he watched the inferno.
David and Shannon Dube were in their home down the street when they heard fire trucks racing by and activity on the police scanner.
"We knew it was something big," Shannon said. "It's very scary how easily houses can go up. We're just happy that everybody is safe."
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the state fire marshal's office and the Lynn Fire Investigation Unit.