In wake of Pittsfield fire, tenants wonder what's next

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PITTSFIELD — Donald Brodeur was at his friend's apartment at the White Terrace complex on Sunday when the fire began.

They tried to put out the fire themselves, he said, but soon realized they couldn't control the blaze, so they started banging on doors to alert other residents to get out.

"I had enough time to get my family out, so that's all that matters," said Brodeur, 18, who lives in the building with his mother, Kim Brodeur, and younger brother and sister.

"It's terrifying what I saw when I went back into the building," he said Monday, noting he had gone back inside to try to save a pet.

A day after a fire damaged much of their building, Brodeur and many other tenants were gathered behind yellow caution tape near the neighboring gas station waiting to see what they could salvage.

No one was injured in the fire, but 24 residents of the building have been displaced.

The cause of Sunday's fire hasn't been determined, but officials are leaning toward listing it as accidental, said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski. The department received reports from a tenant that he believed he caused the fire by charging a battery on a bed.

The fire spread quickly due to the building's structure, the chief said, and it was exacerbated by open doors and windows.

"These buildings are old," he said. "They've been reconstructed so many times that there's void spaces in the walls and ceilings."

Kim Andrews Johnson, who had been a tenant for about a year, was previously homeless before receiving her dead husband's veterans benefits.

She said her daughter was also impacted by a fire in January that destroyed an apartment building on Tyler Street near the William Stanley Business Park.

By about 1 p.m. Monday, Donald Duey, Brodeur's grandfather, had managed to salvage his wallet, a SNAP card for food assistance, a flat-screen TV and a bottle of his disabled wife's medicine.

He worried about whether the pharmacy would provide replacements for the medicine that was destroyed by water damage.

"I don't even know what's going to happen over there," he said. "If they're not going to do anything, I don't have the cash for it."

The Red Cross provided the residents with cash stipends to help pay for food, shelter and other basic necessities for the first few days after the fire.

Duey was using the $400 he got to pay for lodging for himself and his wife at the Econo Lodge on Cheshire Road, where many other victims of the fire were staying.

Local restaurants near the Econo Lodge — the Friendly's, McDonald's and Five Guys — also agreed to provide meals to the residents Tuesday at the request of the Christian Center, said Karen Ryan, food coordinator for the center.

Ryan lives on North Street and saw the fire on Sunday.

Five Guys also will donate 20 percent of its sales on Wednesday to the victims of the fire, said Joey Berry, manager of the location on Cheshire Road.

The Christian Center also is donating hygiene products, 12 bus passes and nonperishable food items like chips, cereal bars and juice. Staff are also trying to plan a trip — with donated transportation — for the residents to its boutique, which provides clothes, shoes and household items.

Duey wasn't sure how long the assistance he currently had through the Red Cross stipend could last him.

"It's putting me in a lot of stress," he said as he stood behind the caution tape Monday afternoon. "Right now, I don't know what I'm going to do."

Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.


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