More than 200 dining inside when fire alarm pulled

AUBURN — The Chester P. Tuttle American Legion Post 279 was destroyed by a three-alarm blaze on Friday evening as more than 200 people enjoying dinner within were safely evacuated. There were no injuries as a result of the fire.

According to the Auburn Fire Rescue Department, the “fast moving” fire on Bancroft Street started shortly before 8 p.m. in the American Legion Post’s attic but was first noticed within the kitchen. A call to 911 was placed at 7:57 p.m. while the fire alarm within the building was pulled to alert those inside of the fire. A press release issued by the Auburn Fire Rescue Department noted an off-duty Auburn firefighter was among those having dinner at the time and he helped in “alerting patrons and safely evacuating them with staff.”

With the amount of people in the building at the time of the fire we are extremely lucky tonight that we did not have any serious injuries and that everyone was able to escape the building quickly.

Auburn Fire Rescue Chief Stephen Coleman, Jr.

As Engine 3 arrived on scene at 8:01 p.m., heavy smoke was seen coming from the roof and a second alarm was struck. Though the initial report stemmed from the Post’s kitchen, “the fire was well advanced when fire crews arrived and that there was a heavy fire load already in the attic.”

Auburn Fire Rescue Chief Stephen M. Coleman, Jr. said the attic was the originating location of the fire and was ablaze in advance of the first call for help. “The fire had been burning for some time in the attic space and was well advanced before anyone in the building knew it,” Coleman said.

A third alarm would be called ten minutes later as the Incident Commander ordered all firefighters to evacuate the burning building due to deteriorating conditions. According to the Auburn Fire Rescue Department, “Just minutes after the firefighters left the building there was a total collapse of the roof.”

The initial evacuation of the diners and the order for firefighters to evacuate the building shortly before the roof collapsed helped ensure nobody was hurt as a result of the fire.

“With the amount of people in the building at the time of the fire we are extremely lucky tonight that we did not have any serious injuries and that everyone was able to escape the building quickly,” said Coleman.

The fire is not considered suspicious but remains under investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s Office in conjunction with the District 7 Fire Investigation Unit. Mutual aid on scene included fire departments from the towns of Charlton, Leicester, Millbury, Oxford, Sturbridge, Webster, and the city of Worcester.

The Chester P. Tuttle American Legion Post was established in 1922, named for a Needham-born man who was killed in France in the final weeks of World War I. According to property records, the Post on Bancroft Street featured more than 9,600 square feet on a 1.7 acre lot and was built in 1967.

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