AYER -- There were four apartment units lost in the overnight fire that ravaged 63 Main St. Some tenants left the fire scene, while others waited Tuesday morning to return to their units to assess the damage.
Colleen Colvin lived in a third-floor apartment with her boyfriend Jarred and a roommate. At noon, Colvin sat on the sidewalk on West Street while leaning against the side of Kelley's Hallmark. She stared with bloodshot eyes up at firefighters and others hustling nearby to clean debris from the burned-out building that she called home just 12 hours earlier.
As she waited, some passersby handed her plastic bags to carry out belongings for when she was allowed to enter.
Colvin said she went to bed at about midnight on Monday, but was awoken by her boyfriend a short time later when he said "We've got to get out of here. There's smoke pouring out of the sink area."
"I was barefoot and in my pajamas when we ran out and we ran down the stairs. The hallway was filled with carbon monoxide. I walked through a plume of it."
"I couldn't walk any further. I couldn't reach the front door, so I went back up the stairs and I went to the (rear) fire escape and that's where we got out. I came over here to see what was going on."
By "here" Colvin meant the West Street side of the building, which was fully consumed by smoke and fire.
"By that time, the cops were already on the scene and a fire engine had already pulled up."
Colvin said she
"We didn't hear beeping or anything." Colvin said she's heard smoke detectors sound-off before when she lived in the building. "But for some reason it didn't this time."
"I was really worried about the neighbors. I wondering 'Should we bang on their doors?' but he said 'No, we've got to get out of here.' When I got down here I thought 'my God, what if our roommate is still up there? What if he's sleeping?' It turns out, luckily, he was with a friend over in Shirley or something. He just spent the night over there. I was sending firemen up there like, 'Dude, I might have a roommate up there sleeping. You need to see if you can get him.' I was afraid carbon monoxide put him to sleep."
Colvin got the signal that she could enter the building. She came out a half hour later holding a potted pothos plant. She was clearly shell-shocked.
"It's just a wave of emotion, walking up the stairway. The walls are all torn out. There's holes everywhere. There's just ceiling ripped down. You can see straight into other people's apartments."
"Since I'm on the top floor, and all the windows are out, you know, everything is open. It's really bad."
Colvin said her unit suffered mostly water and smoke damage. "The fire hit our first bedroom where my roommate was staying. Just a little bit, though. All things considered, our apartment is probably the least hit by the fire."
Colvin said a couple who lived on the second floor "got hit hard." A family that lost everything also weighed on Colvin. "They have two kids. They got hit pretty hard, too."
Colvin was going to spend the night with friends who were making her dinner. A friend suggested she leave the scene for a while and get some rest. The trip inside the building was overwhelming. "I walked in and I couldn't stop crying."
Kelley's Hallmark closed for the day following the fire. Co-owner Steve Wentzel said he was alerted about the fire burning directly across West Street by store co-owner Gloria Sliger. Wentzel said he'd been given a tour of the basement restaurant under construction just the other day.
Work was afoot to get the anticipated Sidetracked Pub ready to open within a month's time. "They'd done a ton of work," said Wentzel. "Seven days a week. No matter when I came by, they were working there. I got a tour from Sheila (Field). She showed me the kitchen and the bar and the walls they'd put up. They were getting close."
Sliger said the store would also accept donations of clothing for the fire victims. "They lost it all. All of it." Kelley's Hallmark and Fresh Ayer Sports at 3 Park St. will accept clothing for the tenants throughout the week.
Fresh Ayer Sports owner Chuck King is the president of the Ayer Business Alliance. King dedicated Wednesday's Classic Car night on June 20 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. to the fire victims and asked the community to visit the car show and bring clothing, food and monetary donations for those affected by the fire.
Ayer selectman Chairman Jim Fay talked briefly to building co-owner Matthew Field, who was on the scene and assisting with the cleanup. Fay said initial indications were that the building may be structurally unsound in the wake of the blaze, according to Building Inspector Gabe Vellante.
"We need to do a full structural examination, but initially, his first impression was that the building was going to have to come down," said Fay.
Fay said he hoped the Ayer Business Alliance relief fund takes off to help the fire victims. "I'm sure this is going to expand very quickly."
"The proximity of the (West Main Street) firehouse was fortuitous to react so quickly," said Fay. "There's barely a scorch I dare say at first glance on (P.N.) Laggis," a men's clothing store that abuts the burnt building. "There's hardly a scorch on Kelley's."
Fay credits the Ayer Fire Department's quick response in stopping the fire's spread. "One o'clock in the morning -- to have reacted so quickly -- that speaks to the resilience of Ayer. You think back to the 1940s when half the town burned down. So we've learned our lessons well on fires in this town. We have one of the best, if not the best, fire departments in the region. I'm just convinced of that."