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Seven Alarm Blaze in Lawrence

A massive fire engulfed 16 buildings in downtown Lawrence, destroying businesses and residences and forcing pajama-clad families into bitter cold.

The fire destroyed nearly all of a city block, including a home for the mentally disabled.

One person was hurt, but the injuries aren't believed to be serious.

Fire officials say the blaze started in an empty nightclub that's being renovated, and is considered suspicious.

The fire was pushed by stiff, freezing winds through the block, which included old, wooden triple deckers.

Fire fighters were hampered by below freezing temperatures and a wind chill that dropped to two degrees below zero.

Police said about 150 people were evacuated from the area. Fifty-four were staying at a temporary Red Cross shelter.

The fire was first spotted by an ambulance crew on an unrelated call about 2:30 a.m., state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said.

Coan said the fire started in the nightclub, which was being renovated. The club had no walls, and that "gave the fire an opportunity to take hold very quickly,'' he said.

Freezing winds quickly pushed the blaze through the block, which included early 1900s triple-decker wood frames. Firefighters were hampered by wind chills that dropped to 2 below zero, freezing the water used to fight the blaze and covering buildings and streets in ice.

Zulma Borgos, 49, said she was awakened by calls of "Fire! Fire!'' from her boyfriend, Elias Riverra. Borgos said when she looked out the window, "I couldn't believe what I saw.''

"It was a ball of fire,'' said Riverra, 21. He didn't even have time to grab a pair of socks before waking Borgos' three girls in the apartment and running.

The girls, ages 5 to 12, were wrapped in blankets when they arrived at a shelter the Red Cross set up in a local school. Other people arrived in bathrobes and slippers.

This program aired on January 21, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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