By Jim Armstrong, WBZ-TV

FITCHBURG (CBS) — A six-alarm fire tore through a five-story, 47-unit apartment building in downtown Fitchburg Monday night.

When you see the video of the fire tearing through a building in Fitchburg, it’s hard to believe everyone who lived there made it out safely. Forty-four of the 47 units inside the Johnsonia Apartment and Condominium Building were occupied.

Late Tuesday morning, the last of the residents was picked up and carried out to safety — a cat named Princess. Firefighter Ted Lillie found her on her owner’s window. It was his third feline rescue of the day; Fitchburg firefighters saved five cats in total on Tuesday. Princess’ owner, Meg Pena, had feared the cat she owned for five years was gone for good. Pena sobbed when she and her pet were reunited.

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong reports.

It was one of the few bright spots in the aftermath of this six-alarm fire. The 1896 building was recently renovated into luxury homes. Its roof is now caved in, and the whole building’s structural integrity is in question. Investigators cannot determine what caused the fire until they are given the OK to enter the building and look around; that permission is still pending.

Fitchburg resident Paul Merrill heard reports of the fire coming over the personal scanner he uses to listen to emergency calls. He rushed to the scene and was amazed by what he saw.

“Well, I can tell you this,” Merrill said. “Did you ever see the movie “Ladder 49″? That’s what it looked like. I was only two streets down but I came over and when I saw the flames I already knew, it’s going to be a six-alarm fire.”

Even people who didn’t live here are upset. They describe this building as one of the prettiest in a downtown everyone is desperately trying to reinvigorate.

fitchburg fire 6 Alarm Fire Destroys Fitchburg Apartment Complex

(Photo by: Dustin Arsenault)

Katherine Polis has lived in Fitchburg for almost her entire life. She remembers a bustling downtown that no longer exists.

“It’s sad for the whole city of Fitchburg because it’s an historic building,” Polis said, standing across the street from the smoldering structure. “It’s been here for a long, long time. We used to have a lot of stores down here on Main Street.”

The question is if, not when, they can be rebuilt.

As for the estimated 60 people left homeless by the fire, the Red Cross of Central Massachusetts is trying to help. A spokeswoman for the agency said the Courtyard by Marriott in Fitchburg made a surprise offer of 20 free rooms for fire victims until June 23rd. Seven more of the victims happen to be employees at Fitchburg State University, and the Red Cross says FSU has offered to give temporary housing to those people.


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