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Three Hospitalized, Steele House Evacuated After Early Morning Fire

Around 100 Melrose seniors will be staying for a week or more in hotels.

(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.

Steve Meuse January 28, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Wow, $140 a night? Which hotel were they taken to? Many of the ones in Saugus and the area are very reasonably priced (like the Red Roof Inn at 64!). A quick search didn't show any above $110. Even with the discount, they paid too much even for the nice hotels in the area.
Daniel DeMaina January 28, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Steve, the mayor said they were taken to Hampton Inn, Spring House Suites and Homewood Suites in Peabody.
Alice Hall January 29, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I am a former resident of the Steele House. Considering the price think of how elderly people many with disabilities feel about going there. The are leaving the security of their apartments and the people who live on the floor where the reside. We watched over each other. I was displaced a couple of times. the housing authority, mayor , fire department , mbta and everyone else have been a god sent to these people. So unless you live in an eldcerly building pleace do not critisize what they are doing
Daniel DeMaina January 30, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Hey Steve—I just corrected the article. The regular rate is $114, not $140, and the discounted rate that the city will be reimbursed for was $99. I misheard on both counts—this was a reporting error by me.

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