SALEM — A first floor resident of the four-unit duplex condo at 8-10 Burnside St., had her first clue that something was wrong Wednesday afternoon when she noticed smoke drifting down from the ceiling, followed shortly by running water.

The woman called 911 at about about 4:45 p.m., and firefighters were on the scene in minutes. In all, Salem engines 5, 4, 2 and 1 responded, along with Ladder 2 and fire commander Deputy Chief Scott Austin. Engines from Swampscott, Lynn and Beverly were called in to cover.

Firefighters quickly determined that the blaze had originated between the first story ceiling and the floor of the second story. The water, they correctly surmised, was from PVC pipes, used extensively during the renovation, which had melted from the heat of the flames.

Although the majority of the fire was in the ceiling between the first and second floors, there was also fire damage between the walls and extensive water and smoke damage to the stacked first and second story units. Because it was a smoldering fire, out of sight between the walls, firefighters had to break into them to locate and extinguish hot spots, Deputy Austin explained.

The firefighters had mostly cleared by about 7:15 p.m.

Of the four units in the building, the first and second floor units on one side of the building sustained virtually no damage and remained habitable. The corresponding units on the other side, however, will require considerable repairs before the occupants can return. 

The deputy chief said it possible an electrical problem could have been responsible, but until the investigation is complete, the cause, though not suspicious, remains undetermined.

Austin said three people left homeless by the fire have already made arrangements to stay with family.

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