METHUEN (CBS) -- Methuen Fire officials point to an overloaded extension cord in a second-floor apartment as the cause of a massive apartment building fire Thursday night. Three residents went to the hospital with minor injuries. A total of 50 people, including 21 families, are looking for a new place to stay as of Friday evening.
Flames shot out of the top of the building at Ashton Place in Methuen, and it was a chaotic scene as crews worked to put out the blaze.
"The alarms went off and I come out of my house and I saw it was burning directly above my apartment," said resident Dale Ripley. "Everybody got out safely and the fire department showed up."
At one point, a mayday had to be called after a firefighter fell from the second floor and into a first floor bedroom.
"It seemed like an eternity, but after about five or six minutes, we were able to locate him and get him out, so he's doing fine," Methuen Fire Chief Tim Sheehy told WBZ-TV's Anna Meiler.
That firefighter, Lt. Thomas Curtis, took just a few minutes to compose himself, and then went back to fighting the fire throughout the night.
"My legs were dangling into the fire. The floor opened up and I went in. I was wedged into my thighs. The medics checked me out. I put my coat on, my helmet on and went back to work," Lt. Curtis said.
Chief Sheehy said everyone was able to make it of the building, though several residents drove themselves to the hospital for smoke inhalation. He said two firefighters were injured from slipping on ice, but that both had been released from the hospital.
"I'm just glad that we weren't in there cause we have three kids. So we weren't in there when it happened," one resident told WBZ.
The building is a total loss.
On Friday morning, firefighters were still combing through the 24-unit building looking for hot spots. By the afternoon, cleanup crews had begun to board up the building.
An emergency shelter was set up at the Timony School for the families displaced by the fire.
Later Friday, Lt. Curtis felt good enough to help his crew add to a huge and growing pile of toys and other items at the Methuen Fire station for people forced out of their homes.
Kevin, Trevor and their sister Isabella lived in the building that burned, but they will have Christmas presents this year thanks to the community.
"Last night, they were very sad. He was crying because he lost his teddy bear. He was crying. We just talked to them and told them that what we lost is materials and eventually we'll be able to get it back." mother Aqua Martinez said.
"We're all safe. We're all healthy."
The donations are a dramatic response, a glimpse of the true meaning of the holidays.
"I'm super happy that the kids are actually getting things for Christmas because there was a lot of presents at our house and they all got burnt down but they're happy. They're strong resilient kids so that's all that matters you know?," father Juan Negron said.
"Thanks to everyone Merry Christmas. Thank you."
The City of Methuen announced a recovery fund for those displaced and money has already come into the fund. If anyone is interested in contributing either gifts or making monetary donations, you're asked to contact the Methuen Fire Department or the Red Cross.
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