CHICOPEE, Mass (WGGB) — Investigators are still trying to figure out what sparked a massive, suspicious fire Monday afternoon. Overwhelming flames engulfed an old coal barn in the area of Ames Avenue just before 3PM. It sent thick smoke billowing into the air, which could be seen for miles.
“I just heard people screaming ‘Go that way!’ So I kind of got out of my house and I saw flames shooting above my house, and I just kept running, came down here,” neighbor Jeannine Washington said. “It was incredible.”
Firefighters say heavy equipment and old coal left over in the barn accelerated the fire, while windy and dry conditions allowed it to spread first to an abandoned home and then across the Chicopee River to an area of brush along Granby Road.
“The wind dries everything out,” Deputy Chief James McInerney said. “It makes it more flammable, plus when the fire does start it gets whipped up by the wind and spreads a lot quicker.”
Heat caused damage to about half a dozen occupied homes, including Paul Chmura’s.
“I came out of my house and walked to the corner over there and I had to stop because it was that hot,” Chmura said. “This whole one side all the siding is melted, two or three of the other houses are also the same way.”
Neighbors credit the fire department with stopping the flames before they engulfed other homes, but say this suspicious fire was preventable.
“Multiple neighbors have called police about kids being in there. Obviously it’s unsafe, it’s not boarded up, not closed off,” Larry O’Connor said. “Anybody go in there, anybody can do what they want in there.”
One firefighter was treated for a minor hand injury. Nobody else was hurt. The State Fire Marshall’s Office has been brought in to help investigate and are following leads.
Mutual aid from Holyoke, Springfield, and Westover was used in Chicopee during the incident.