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Five families displaced after apartment fire at Emerson Place

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Five families were at least temporarily displaced Saturday night by a fire at Emerson Place apartments that apparently started in a basement dryer.

Gary C. Beasley, executive director of Neighbors of Watertown, said improvements made after his nonprofit agency bought and refurbished the building in 2003 helped keep the blaze from spreading throughout the 11-apartment complex.

“It could have been a heck of a lot worse,” Mr. Beasley said. No one was injured.

Watertown firefighters were called to 23 Emerson Place about 7:15 p.m., and emergency officials were able to clear all of the apartments without incident and contain fire damage to a single apartment.

“Luckily, everything worked in our favor,” city Fire Chief Dale C. Herman said.

“The Fire Department responded very quickly,” Mr. Beasley said.

The blaze apparently started in the dryer in a basement in Apt. 23 and spread into the first-floor kitchen area and then the attic before being contained by firefighters, he said.

“The apartment was occupied at the time of the fire,” Chief Herman said. “We don’t believe there was anything suspicious.”

Fire and police investigators will comb through the debris and photograph evidence before officially determining the cause, he said.

A couple of hours after the initial call, firefighters were still going through the row building to put out any hot spots and ensure that the fire was contained, Chief Herman said.

However, a main electric line that went through Apt. 23 was damaged; as a result, five of the 11 apartments were to be without power at least for the night, he said.

The fire-damaged apartment will “have to be rebuilt,” while the two adjacent apartments also received smoke and water damage and will have to be cleaned up before tenants can move back in, hopefully very soon, Mr. Beasley said.

“We know the tenants are upset with any disruption, which is understandable,” he said.

Those displaced, estimated at eight to 10 people in just the three damaged apartments, probably will be put up in motels if they don’t have family or friends who can take them in, Mr. Beasley said.

There didn’t appear to be structural damage to the building, he said.

The row apartment house and nearly a dozen nearby homes were renovated as part of the $4.1 million Emerson Place project a decade ago. The century-old row house, which has 10 three-bedroom apartments and one four-bedroom apartment, was completely redone, from the facade on the outside to new carpets, kitchen appliances and fresh coats of paint on the inside.

While attics throughout the row building used to be connected, fire walls separating the apartments all the way to the roof were included in the project and probably helped to contain Saturday’s blaze, Mr. Beasley said.

The renovation project was completed in November 2003.

National Grid officials responded to the scene and shut off electric and natural gas service to the building. Power and gas service was expected to be restored to six units Saturday night.

The Fort Drum rapid intervention team also assisted by removing possible obstructions from broken windows, providing exterior lighting and handling other duties to help ensure firefighter safety, Chief Herman said.

The area and streets around the Emerson Place building were blocked off with police tape through much of Saturday night, and a portion of State Street was closed by police temporarily until the fire was contained.

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