AYER -- State and local fire officials are investigating the cause of a two-alarm fire at 41 Shirley Street that sent two people to the hospital.
The call for the fire came in at about 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday, said Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi. Two people were transported to Nashoba Valley Medical Center for smoke inhalation.
At the scene on Tuesday morning, building owner Bill White said three people live in the building. His son, who lives on the first floor, was not in at the time.
Pedrazzi said one woman on the third floor escaped through a window and fell on to the fire escape, where firefighters picked her up. He said there was too much smoke for her to come down the stairs.
The other woman on the second floor, which is level with Shirley Street, came out through the main door.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, Pedrazzi said, but it appears the fire originated on the second floor.
The call came in from a house on Union Street, and Ayer received help from Shirley, Devens, Littleton and Lunenburg fire departments, Pedrazzi said. Groton also offered an ambulance.
Several cats in the building didn't survive, he said, but two that were still alive were taken out and given oxygen masks. They were later transported to a vet in Harvard.
He said he had no idea how they could have died.
"When you have a fire like that it gets super heated in there," he said.
Sitting on a bench in front of the house, Nancy Record said her sister, Brenda Holmes, was on the second floor.
"I guess she got out, they said she was sitting outside," said Record, fighting back tears.
Holmes has multiple sclerosis and is handicapped, Record said. Her sister was at the hospital but she came to check on the status of her cats, which were very important to Holmes.
"I came here hoping to have some news about her cats," she said.
Record said she was not sure if the two surviving cats were her sister's, because the woman upstairs also had a cat.
When Record's other sister Diane Wilson arrived, the two embraced at the scene of the charred house.
"It could've been much worse, nobody lost their life," Wilson said.
She said her sister walks with a wheeled device.
"It's a miracle she got out," she said, looking at the blackened building. "It's a miracle."
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