By Bethany Bray and Ethan Forman
---- — SALEM — A landscaping trailer caught fire on Arbella Street yesterday morning, creating a large cloud of black smoke that could be seen as far away as Beverly.
The blaze caused one injury: Omar Perez, 35, of Lynn suffered second- and third-degree burns to his hands and face. Perez was transported by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he was listed in fair condition yesterday.
The one-alarm fire started just before 9 a.m. in front of 1 Arbella St., off Bridge Street.
Neighbors said they heard an explosion and came out to see the bottom of the landscape truck on fire before it was fully engulfed, with other explosions going on as the fire spread and shot into the air.
“We heard the boom, and we went to look out the window,” said Arbella Street resident Betsy Adams, who said she saw flames “flying out” of the bottom of the trailer before it became engulfed, followed by several smaller explosions.
Adams said she saw a landscaper trying to unhook the trailer, and she called for him to stop.
“It wasn’t worth it,” she said.
The Salem Fire Department had the trailer fire extinguished within a few minutes and also sprayed a nearby house with water to minimize damage, Deputy Chief Brian Harrington said. The fire had engulfed an enclosed, box-style trailer that was attached to a small dump truck from M. Carpenter Services landscaping company.
“A couple more minutes, and we definitely would’ve had the whole front of the house going (on fire),” Harrington said.
Roughly five minutes before an 8:50 a.m. 911 caller reported the fire, a retired firefighter had called the Fire Department to report that a landscaping truck was leaking gasoline while driving down Lafayette Street.
When Harrington pulled up to the Arbella Street fire, he “put two and two together” and realized it was the same landscaping truck reported earlier.
Landscapers opened the trailer to find that a gas container had overturned and spilled on the floor. Gasoline fumes had accumulated in the trailer, which ignited when one of the landscapers started a gas-powered lawn mower with an electric start, Harrington said.
Perez was conscious and alert as he was loaded into the ambulance.
“His brother is part of the (landscaping) crew and was talking with him, but you could tell he was in some severe pain,” Harrington said.
Harrington estimated the fire’s damage at $20,000. The trailer contained several lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other pieces of equipment.
The fire also brought down utility lines on Arbella Street; power was temporarily shut off to a portion of the street yesterday morning.
“I heard the explosion,” said Ashley Lyons, who lives at 14 Arbella St. and called 911. “I came outside and there was a huge fire,” she said.
Kerri Alcott of 8 Arbella St. said the explosion shook her house, across the street from where the trailer had been parked.
“You could see (the fire) from the backyard,” Alcott said.
“The power lines caught and flames were cruising down the power lines,” said Adams, who lives in Alcott’s building.
Salem police and fire investigators, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, responded to the scene. The fire’s cause — the gasoline leak and subsequent ignition — has been determined and is no longer under investigation, Harrington said.