(Editor's note: This article was updated on Monday, Jan. 30 at 11:15 a.m. with correct hotel prices.)
A fire that broke out in an apartment after midnight this morning led to the hospitalization of three people and the evacuation of the Steele House elderly housing complex on Nason Drive.
Mayor Rob Dolan said that 100 residents of the Steele House have been put up in three hotels on Route 1 in Peabody, where they will likely have to stay for a week or more.
The fire broke out on the fourth floor of the east wing of the Steele House. Everything beneath the fourth floor was flooded due to the sprinkler system triggered by the fire, Dolan said, damaging the building's electrical system.
"There’s a lot of damage in the building—could be over $300,000," Dolan said.
Paul Johnson of the Melrose Housing Authority, which operates the Steele House, said that officials will have a better idea of how long the building remains vacant after they inspect the building this afternoon.
Johnson said he envisions residents being brought back into the building in two to three phases, once the electrical system is turned on and the fire prevention system is back up and running.
For instance, the west side of the building "didn't get that much water," Johnson said, so provided that there's no damage to the electricial systems in the basement, those residents could return to the building sooner. Meanwhile, residents of the most heavily damaged apartments could be displaced for longer than a week, he said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation as of this morning; Melrose Patch has left a message with Melrose Fire Capt. Ed Collina of the department's Fire Prevention Office.
MBTA Buses Take Residents to Hotels
A second alarm was transmitted for the fire around 12:24 a.m. this morning. The MBTA brought in three buses to assist with the evacuation of the building, which which is owned and operated by the Melrose Housing Authority and has 150 apartments, Dolan said.
The last residents were out of the building by 4:30 a.m. with enough clothing and medication for two days; residents will be taken back to their apartments tomorrow or Friday, with assistance from the Melrose Fire Department, to collect more clothing and medication for their extended stay in the hotels.
Dolan said the hotels are charging a discounted rate of $99 per night for each room—the normal rate is $114 a night—which the city will be reimbursed for through the Housing Authority's insurance policy.
"Our continuous policy is we do not put people in gyms on cots. We put them in hotels," Dolan said. "That’s standard policy for us."
City officials are meeting this morning at 10:30 a.m. with state Housing Authority officials, Mystic Valley Elder Services and Emergency Management, Dolan said, to map out next steps. The first item on the list is providing meals for those displaced by the fires, as Dolan said many of them do not have their own transportation or are disabled.
"Mystic Valley is already sending in case managers both for their clients as well as others because this a a very traumatic experience for many of these people," Dolan said. Residents who don't have insurance will be assisted through the city's Emergency Fund.
All pets are accounted for as well—one of the hotels where residents are staying, Homewood Suites, allows for pets, while a few cats left in the building will be tended to by Melrose Animal Control Officer Diane Kurkjian.
"Police, fire, emergency management, Cataldo, and the MBTA all did an outstanding job," Dolan said.
Johnson said he has already met with the state insurance representative this morning, while the state is sending out its chief of construction and the Sullivan Group insurance company is sending out an adjuster this afternoon. This morning, workers were replacing the sprinkler head that went off and the pipe, while electricians were checking the shut down electrical and heating systems.
"They have to basically go through the power system to make sure it's safe to be turned back on," Johnson said.
Keep checking back for updates to this article.