Jun. 20—LAWRENCE — More than a week after the fire that displaced 17 residents from South Lawrence's Shawsheen Court apartment complex, City Council President Marc Laplante is urging Lawrence leaders to prioritize water pressure improvements in the neighborhood.
The 3-alarm blaze that rendered the apartments a "total loss" — with damage amounting to approximately $3 million — required firefighters to battle severe water pressure issues, fire Chief Brian Moriarty said.
The cause of the blaze has been ruled "undetermined," according to Moriarty, although fire officials do know the origin of it and no foul play is suspected. The apartments involved have been razed and the remnants are being checked for asbestos, the chief said.
"Our firefighters worked extremely hard in a trying time," Moriarty said, explaining that the city has long been aware of water issues in the area. He said he made mention of the problem to Mayor Kendrys Vasquez during a walk-through of the fire scene June 10.
According to Laplante, who represents the district in which Shawsheen Court sits, neighbors he spoke with saw firefighters bypassing hydrants and laying hoses more than a quarter-mile away.
"People are concerned and scared when they see that Fire Department officials bypass the hydrants in their neighborhood. That's a concern for them," the councilor said.
"We have to correct this problem as soon as possible to give the neighbors peace of mind."
Laplante is calling on city leaders to move up the Shawsheen Court pipe replacement work on its list of eventual repairs.
"The good news is that during the past five years the city has begun critical improvements in key locations throughout the city. Now we need to put the Shawsheen Court area on the top of the improvement list," he said.
According to Laplante, there are 153 miles of pipes in Lawrence. Each year, a certain number of pipes — approximately 2% — are upgraded in accordance with the city's Master Plan. Laplante said 109 miles of pipes should be scheduled for replacement.
"The city hasn't really focused on replacement and is playing catch-up," Laplante explained. He said he spoke to staff at both the Water and Fire departments. "Replacement is the long-term solution to solve the neighborhood's water pressure problem."
The money would come out of the city's Water Department budget if and when hydrants are upgraded, Laplante said.
The pipes in the Shawsheen area are from 1915, Laplante said, and over time, iron deposits build up in the pipes, restricting water flow.
Thirteen of the 18 hydrants in the area have been designated "marginally adequate" in terms of water flow by the National Fire Protection Association. The others carry the designations "very good flows" (two); "good for residential areas" (one) and "inadequate" (two).
Laplante said that because nearby fire hydrants were unable to satisfy the water demand during the Shawsheen Court fire, especially the "marginally adequate" hydrants, hundreds of feet of hose were needed to reach hydrants with "very good flow."
The chief, too, hopes the Shawsheen neighborhood can soon see improvements. However, he and Laplante both said they realize the city is making an effort.
"You can't fix everything at once," Moriarty said. "Unfortunately this neighborhood hasn't been fixed yet and had a big fire before fixes could be made."