Wilmington firefighters continue investigating what caused Friday’s four alarm fire as Avalon Oaks residents begin picking up the pieces two days after the flames displaced a total of 35 people.
Deputy Fire Chief Rick McClellan said that, contrary to a previous report, it has not been determined that a gas grill was the cause of the fire. McClellan said interviews with residents will continue in the upcoming days, and it could be another week before the investigation is completed. The fire is not considered suspicious, and McClellan said it’s possible no definitive cause for the fire is ever determined.
Michaela Stanelun was among the residents to lose nearly everything during the fire. She was sitting with her husband, the couple was recently married, in their second floor apartment when the fire alarm began going off.
Stanelun and her husband calmly made their way outside where they soon saw smoke and flames engulf the building.
“It felt like we were in a movie,” said Stanelun. “A few pets were lost, which is terrible news. But most important is that we’re all safe, and we’ll be taken care of. Everyone lost a lot. Some people lost everything. But we have each other, and we’re working through this together.”
McClellan said this is the worst fire Wilmington has had in recent memory. That was compounded by fact that the call came in during Friday’s blizzard that dumped around two feet of snow on the are.
In addition, some water flow issues arose while firefighters from Wilmington and seven other towns battled flames that shot through the roof of the apartment complex.
“It was one of the worst scenarios you can get,” said McClellan. “The middle of a blizzard, a large structure, and the wind helped feed it. Once it got going, it took on a whole life of its own and really magnified.”
According to McClellan, one reason residents were able to get out safely was because the man who discovered the fire pulled the alarm for the building. While he was evacuating, he hit the buzzers for every room, hoping to alert residents that there was a problem.
Police Chief Michael Begonis and two Massachusetts State Police troopers also were coincidentally in the area. They were quickly able to arrive on scene, and when firefighters arrived, the officers were in the building banging on doors to make sure all 35 residents were accounted for.
Stanelun recommended residents donate to Red Cross in addition to reaching out to Avalon Oaks management if they are interested in helping in the aftermath of the devastating fire. One resident has already created an online fundraising page, hoping to find a way to assist.
“Wilmington is a tight-knight community from what I’ve seen,” said Stanelun. “We just hope the community will help us in any way, shape or form. Because there are some people who lost everything. They’re going to need more than what insurance can provide.”