BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — A three-alarm fire caused extensive damage to a Salem home and sent three people to area hospitals early yesterday morning, fire officials said.
A pet cat perished in the fire, which started on a second-floor porch at 12 School St. shortly after 5 a.m., said Capt. John Payne of the Salem Fire Department. Two small dogs and another cat made it out safely.
The fire, deemed accidental, is believed to have been caused by a discarded cigarette that was blown underneath a clapboard and smoldered, Payne said. The second-floor tenant, Charlene Sylvestre, 53, told investigators that she had smoked a cigarette on the porch before going to bed. She usually discards her cigarettes in an urn on the porch. Investigators believe the wind early yesterday morning may have blown it out of the urn.
Hours later, she awoke to the sound of the front window “popping,” said firefighter Richard Thomas. When she looked out, she saw flames. The woman grabbed her two dogs and ran outside, calling to the neighbors downstairs to get out.
Those tenants, Augustine Vega, 46, and Michelle Baldassari, 42, made it out, as well. Their pet cat was missing for about an hour and a half but emerged from the burning building unharmed, Thomas said.
Meanwhile, a delivery driver heading down North Street spotted the flames. Knowing there is a fire station nearby, he went there, said firefighter Jeff Brown. But at that hour, no one was downstairs. After getting no answer, the driver pulled the fire alarm right outside the station.
Firefighters are now hoping that man will come forward so that they can thank him, said Brown.
Sylvestre was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, firefighters said. She was expected to be released yesterday.
Vega and Baldassari were taken to Salem Hospital for evaluation but were not believed to be injured, Payne said.
The third-floor tenant, Aaron Vlahos, was not home at the time of the fire.
The 21/2 story, wood-frame house is owned by John Kalantzis. Firefighters estimated the damage at $300,000.
There were working smoke detectors in the home, which firefighters could hear as they arrived at the scene, said Brown and Thomas.
Firefighters struck a second alarm shortly after arriving at the scene, and a third alarm just after 6 a.m. They got the fire under control within about an hour, Brown said.
Firefighters from a number of area communities assisted at the scene and with covering Salem fire stations during the blaze, including Beverly, Danvers, Peabody, Swampscott, Lynn, Lynnfield and Nahant.
The American Red Cross provided emergency shelter at a hotel for the couple on the first floor, as well as funds to residents for replacement clothing and shoes, among other necessities, said Red Cross spokeswoman Kat Powers.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.
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