Crews Friday dismantled the old Odd Fellows building downtown where a four-alarm fire struck early Friday morning, displacing 20 people in nearby apartments.
Fire Chief Ted Joubert said the four-story building, at the corner of North Washington and Church streets, was not safe and had to be torn down.
“It is on the ground. Everything is down but the fire wall. The building itself is gone,” Fire Lt. Jeff Badger said Friday night.
Police say North Washington Street from Orne Street to Elm Street will be closed and traffic rerouted until the site is cleared of debris.
Firefighters feared that the building — which Joubert said was a “total loss” — would collapse on its own because of the fire damage and the weight of the snow and frozen water on the building combined with strong winds.
Water that had been hosed on the building froze, turning the structure into one big icicle.
“All the things that were up against us also compromised the stability of the building,” Joubert said in an interview Friday morning with The Sun Chronicle as he consulted with firefighters and other officials lined up to talk to him in a building across the street that served as a command post.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
One firefighter suffered a minor injury but was released after treatment at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro and was able to return to work, Joubert said.
Firefighters responded to the building for a fire alarm around midnight, just after they cleared from a fire in a historic house at 264 High St.
That fire was reported around 10 p.m. Thursday by a 10-year-old boy who lives across the street and happened to look out his window, Joubert said.
The fire was coming out of the chimney of the house, Joubert said, and caused “moderate damage.”
A chimney was deemed unstable and firefighters had to open a wall to fight the blaze.
The fire was believed to be accidental and caused by a wood-burning stove. Two people had to stay with relatives because the home was not habitable, the fire chief said.
The home, according to real estate records, was built in 1788.
Attleboro, Plainville and Cumberland firefighters assisted North Attleboro firefighters fighting the fire.
Firefighters fought strong winds, snow and bone-chilling temperatures during both fires.
The temperature around the time of the second fire was near zero but the feel-like temperatures from the wind were several degrees below zero.
Joubert said the size of the fire at the Odd Fellows Building, combined with the elements, made fighting the fire a challenge for firefighters.
Firefighters initially could not tell whether smoke or snow was billowing from the top of the building because of gusting wind, Joubert said.
“It was difficult to tell whether it was smoke or blowing snow,” the chief said.
Firefighters entered the building, Joubert said, and soon determined there was fire on the top floor and the floor below.”
“It’s apparent it was going pretty good before we got to it,” Joubert said.
There were businesses on the ground floor, but the upper three floors were unoccupied commercial space, he said.
Firefighters attempted to attack the fire inside the building, but were driven out, Joubert said, when heavy fire was reported on the second floor.
Firefighters were evacuated from the building about 1 a.m., when the blaze went to a four-alarm fire, but continued to fight the fire from outside the building while battling the weather elements
About 2 a.m., crews were ordered to stay clear of a wall that was compromised.
Joubert said the wind fueled the flames.
“The wind just blew it through the building,” Joubert said.
When they arrived, firefighters found two fire hydrants frozen. But Joubert said firefighters quickly turned to working hydrants nearby.
Fire hoses froze to the ground and fire trucks and ladders were caked with ice, making it particularly treacherous to move around, he said.
“It’s difficult to move. The wind, the snow and the cold compromise your ability to move freely,” Joubert said.
The fire was reported out about 4 a.m., but firefighters continued pouring water on the building later in the morning.
Local firefighters were assisted at the scene by firefighters from Attleboro, Norton, Mansfield, Foxboro, Plainville, Wrentham, and Cumberland, and several departments sent ladder trucks. About 45 firefighters responded to the scene.
Two nearby apartment buildings and their 14 families, were evacuated with the help of police officers. The residents were brought to the police station’s community room.
Tami Broxson, 42, and her spouse, were just about to go to sleep for the night in their apartment at 14 Church St.
“We heard the firemen yelling outside our window,” Broxson said. “We were surrounded by fire trucks. It was surreal.”
Broxson said they could see the firefighters breaking windows to battle the fire, and then saw the flames billowing out.
“It was ferocious,” she said.
She said it was so cold outside that water from the fire hoses appeared to freeze into snow crystals almost immediately.
She said they had to leave the apartment building because the electricity was being cut off.
The couple moved to North Attleboro from Nevada three months ago.
“What a welcome,” Broxson said with a chuckle.
She thanked the Red Cross volunteers for helping them, saying they were “top notch.”
A resident of nearby Pace Plaza condominiums watched as firefighters battled the blaze and estimated the flames rose about 20 feet high from the building.
“It was really on fire,” Steven Morizio told The Sun Chronicle while the blaze raged. “They’re having a hard time putting it out. The fire is coming out of the roof. It’s a bad fire. They are just throwing as much water on it as they can.”
Ten of the 14 families displaced by the fire are receiving temporary shelter at a pet-friendly hotel because they have pets. The other four families have others places to stay, according to Ashley Studley, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
Volunteers are providing everyone with funds for clothing and shoes, and earlier gave the residents food, beverages and blankets.
“Volunteers are continuing to work with them to make sure all their needs are met,” Studley said.
Town Administrator Mark Fisher was at the scene and was consulting with Joubert and other officials.
“Our main concern is the safety of the firefighters in the operation,” Fisher said, adding that he was also concerned about businesses in the area that were not able to open because of the fire.
Some of those businesses, including a nearby restaurant, weren’t expected to be able to open even today.