Multi-alarm fire strikes Whitman home

WHITMAN — About 100 firefighters from several South Shore departments responded to a five-alarm fire that destroyed a large apartment house here Wednesday night, officials said.

A dozen residents who lived in the six-unit property at 316 Commercial St. were displaced by the fire that broke out at about 7:45 p.m.

Fire Chief Timothy Grenno said the initial call reported a fire in a second floor apartment on the left side of the building.

“When companies first arrived, we had heavy overlapping fire from the second floor,” he told reporters at the scene. “It looked like maybe the kitchen area and the second floor deck.”

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Multiple alarms were quickly sounded, drawing firefighters from several South Shore communities, including Bridgewater, Brockton, Duxbury, East Bridgewater, Hanson, Hingham and Rockland.

Crews shot water from ladders onto the upper floors. One firefighter smashed a second floor window with an axe.

“It was a very difficult fire,” Grenno said.

The wood-framed house was built in 1900, according to town property records. Its balloon frame made it easy for the fire to spread, Grenno explained.

“It’s a 19th century structure, balloon frame,” he said. “There’s a lot of void spaces inside it. So, once a fire gets going in a building this . . . the fire just takes off.”

The blaze moved quickly from the second to third floor and attic. It raged for several hours before being brought under control.

“It was a good fight for about two hours or so,” Grenno said.

Flames were still licking one corner of the roof shortly before 11 p.m. Large sections of the building’s roof were missing and smoke entrails could be seen coming off the charred structure.

The smell of smoke hung drifted through the heavily residential neighborhood on a cold winter night.

There were no injuries.

“Everybody made it,” out, said resident Scott Hunter, 57.

Hunter said he was alerted to the fire by the sound of a smoke alarm. He immediately got his two-year-old nephew from the house.

“I got him out,” he said.

It didn’t take long for the fire to start roaring through the large, wood-frame house.

In about “five minutes it was going,” said Hunter, a carpenter who said he has lived in the house since 2004.

The Red Cross was on the scene assisting residents displaced by the fire.

Hunter was stunned to think he’s lost all his possessions.

“It hasn’t kicked in yet,” Hunter said.

The property, which is valued by the town at $469,800, “is probably a total loss,” Grenno said.

He estimated the damage to be at about $600,000 to $700,000. Attempts to reach the property owners Wednesday night were unsuccessful.

Large portions, particularly on the third floor and rear of the building of the house collapsed and fire crews were expected to be on scene overnight, Grenno said.

“We’ll be here all night . . . there’s still a lot of smoldering fire in there,” Grenno said.

“So we’ll be here all night and probably most of the day tomorrow,” Grenno said.

Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office responded to the scene.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but it does not appear to be suspicious, Grenno said.

Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @danny__mcdonald.