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Probe is on for cause of fire

Lawrence, Mass., blaze involved 16 buildings and left dozens homeless.

Eighty-two-year-old Marty Brien points to the house he’s owned since 1948 in Lawrence, Mass., Tuesday. His home was among others destroyed by a fire early Monday that also damaged or destroyed 15 other buildings.

AP PHOTO

LAWRENCE, Mass. — Investigators interviewed witnesses Tuesday and studied the wreckage created by the city’s largest fire in more than a decade, an inferno that swept through 16 buildings and left about 90 people homeless.

Only one minor injury was reported in the fire early Monday, which started in an empty downtown nightclub undergoing renovation.

Twenty-three occupied residences were affected, and at least 15 residents spent the night in a Red Cross shelter, Red Cross spokesman Jamie Devlin said.

Members of a task force set up to investigate suspicious or unexplained fires in Lawrence interviewed witnesses Tuesday, seeking to determine what happened in the day and evening before the blaze, fire Chief Peter C. Takvorian said.

They also looked for physical evidence of where and how the fire started.

“But there is so much destruction on that site, that may take some time,” Takvorian said.

The task force, formed after a string of arsons in the city in the late 1980s and early 1990s, includes representatives of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the state Fire Marshal’s office and Lawrence’s fire and police departments.

Freezing wind quickly pushed the blaze through a block that included early 1900s three-story, wood-framed buildings. Firefighters were hampered by bitter cold that froze the water used to fight the blaze, covering buildings and streets in ice. The wind chill was 2 below zero.

Nightclub owner Geraldo Torres, 45, said he intended to open a restaurant and bar in the space. Renovations began about two months ago and he put $300,000 into the building.

“I don’t have any insurance. I lost everything,” he said.

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