BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Abrea Cuono and Cathleen Delany expected to spend their day photographing students at Endicott College.
Instead, the two photographers were a picture of relief after escaping a three-alarm fire at Beverly Garden Suites on Route 1A in North Beverly yesterday afternoon.
Cuono and Delany ran through thick, black smoke to flee the fire at the motel, where they were staying while in town to take senior portraits for the Endicott College yearbook.
Delany, who had been sleeping until she was awakened by Cuono, was still in her pajamas when she ran outside.
“We’re fine,” Cuono said as she stood wrapped in a blanket outside the motel. “Just a little shaken up.”
Fire officials said nobody was hurt in the blaze, which drew dozens of firefighters from surrounding communities.
Beverly fire Chief Paul Cotter said the fire started in a first-floor suite of the two-story motel and was most likely caused by plumbers using a torch to fix a pipe.
The workers had moved on to the next suite by the time the fire started. The fire traveled up the wall into the unit above, where Cuono and Delany were staying.
Cuono, who is from Philadelphia, said she was using her laptop computer when she saw smoke coming up through the kitchen floor. When she opened a cabinet, smoke poured out.
Cuono immediately woke up Delany, then ran downstairs to the motel manager’s office to report the fire. When she returned to her room, black smoke was billowing in the back.
“We had to run through the black to get out,” Cuono said.
Delany, who lives in New Jersey, had to be taken to an ambulance and given oxygen after taking in some of the black smoke. Neighbors loaned her a winter jacket, offered her tea and invited her into their homes to warm up.
“They were wonderful,” she said.
Cotter said fire crews had to “chase” the fire because it was hidden in the walls. Firefighters pulled off the ceiling and walls in the two suites directly affected and climbed on the roof to cut ventilation holes with a hatchet.
“We managed to keep it contained,” Cotter said. “They did a good job.”
Officials called three alarms, bringing in dozens of firefighters from Salem, Peabody, Danvers, Wenham, Swampscott, Topsfield and Manchester-by-the-Sea. Cotter said the extra manpower was required to help pull off ceilings and walls and search the entire building for any more signs of fire.
Beverly Garden Suites is a 23-room motel at 5 Lakeview Ave., at the corner of Route 1A in North Beverly near Wenham Lake. Office manager Nancy Victorine said there were 19 registered guests, but only four were in the building at the time of the fire, which broke out around 1:15 p.m.
Victorine said some of the rooms were under 2 feet of water from the fire hoses. Cotter said nobody would be able to stay at the motel last night.
The fire was the second of the day on Route 1A. A little over an hour earlier, crews responded to a fire one mile down the road at 15 Dodge St., near the North Beverly fire station.
Fire Capt. Jeff Sirois said that fire was probably caused when a wooden beam next to a fireplace heated up. Firefighters were able to quickly contain the fire due to early detection by the residents, he said.
“It was fortunate they were home,” Sirois said.
Dustin Landry said he was asleep when his father, Dennis, woke him up. They were the only two home at the time.
“He knocked on the door and said, ‘We need to get out of here,’” Dustin Landry said.
Landry said the woodwork above the fireplace was bubbling and smoke was coming out of the baseboards and walls. He was worried there would be damage to Christmas presents he had bought for his 6-year-old daughter.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.