NEW BEDFORD — At least one person has died and two people remained unaccounted for Tuesday night, after a massive fire quickly engulfed a four-story brick rooming house in New Bedford’s North End.

Residents were seen jumping out of windows to escape the blaze as firefighters arrived on scene. Heavy, dark smoke poured from the top three stories of the building, enveloping a full city block between Tallman and Holly Streets as the smoke drifted south.

“The fire had control of the building by the time we arrived,” New Bedford Fire Chief Scott Kruger told reporters. “It became dangerous very quickly.”

All six engines in the New Bedford Fire Department responded to the scene at 1301-1307 Acushnet Avenue, in addition to EMS and other mutual aid. It was dispatched at about 3:15 p.m.

On arrival, the Fire Department immediately dispatched four crews to search the building for residents, but had to pull the crews out as the fire quickly ripped through the roof and made the walls unstable.

“The building rapidly deteriorated,” Kruger said. “The fire was on all four floors. In the hallways. It had burned through a stairwell.”

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The fire was mostly knocked down by about 7 p.m., though firefighters remained on the scene after 9 p.m. Crews began demolishing the building on Wednesday morning.

The Bristol County District Attorney's office identified the man killed in the fire as Manuel Moreira, 59, who lived on the fourth floor of the rooming house.

There are two people still “unaccounted for,” Kruger said Tuesday night. At least five residents were transported to the hospital for injuries.

A family member of one resident said that the hatch to the fire escape ladder was locked, causing some to jump from the second-story wooden balcony.

“We’re aware of their concern,” Kruger said, in regards to the fire escape. “We’re looking at every facet of this incident in our investigation.”

A New Bedford firefighter climbs the ladder to put out the fire on the fourth floor of the building on Acushnet Avenue. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / Petarenapro
New Bedford firefighters extinguish flames from the building on Acushnet Avenue. Credit: Eleonora Bianchi / Petarenapro

It marks at least the fourth major fire in the last two years to devastate the tightly packed three-decker neighborhood. In April of 2021, two people died and more than 40 were displaced when a late night fire sparked in an alley between two buildings and set both on fire. The charred remains of that fire are less than one block away from the scene of Tuesday’s rooming house fire.

“Your heart goes out to the families,” Kruger said. “It’s old buildings, wooden frames … This is what happens in urban, inner city neighborhoods, tightly packed houses with high populations. They have more fires.”

The fire on Tuesday was contained to the single building, Kruger said. Firefighters established a “collapse zone” around the building with the possibility of the structure deteriorating further.

The building was a 31-unit rooming house, with each unit locking individually and each floor sharing a common bathroom, according to residents. There are no kitchens in the building, residents said.

The property recently changed hands. Deeds show it was sold for $1 in December 2022 to “1305 Acushnet Ave LLC.” It is not clear if that means the building was sold to new owners or was part of a corporate restructuring. Kenneth Hoffman, listed as one owner of the property before it was sold, is also listed on corporate filings for the LLC that acquired the property in December.

Hoffman, who residents said owns multiple rooming houses in New Bedford, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Residents said that the building was under “mostly cosmetic” renovation, but that no work was being done on the property Tuesday.

Kruger said no firefighters were injured, and commended the department for their brave response.

“This was a big fire that had great headway,” he said. “We did the best we could.”

Editor's note: This story was updated on March 29, 2023, to provide the victim's identity and to add details from the scene on Wednesday morning.

Email Will Sennott at wsennott@petarenapro.com.


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6 Comments

  1. We have the best fire Dept they Rock and sending prayers for all those displaced and to the family of those deceased or missing 🙏 ❤️ ♥️ 💜

  2. Another example of why a County Fire Department needs to be established. New Bedford was depleted and had to call in aid from communities that aren't familiar with the cities hazards. Remember how the mayor wanted to cut service from that closest station? And what about the resources of the towns being depleted? Every town department is their own feifdom with their own unique issues. Who do they call on? There were delays caused in coverage everywhere. A County wide department offers coordination of manpower all from the same book, similar training and a less costly result. You should have listened to a scanner on the drama!

    1. When surrounding communities come to assist it is called mutual aid. Most communities have mutual aid agreements with their surrounding departments. Also included is how they will staff their own departments, be it calling in off duty personnel or reaching out further into surrounding towns to cover their own stations. (These agreements are usually county based) If there is a significant hazard involved it should be communicated to responding apparatus by command of the scene (likely a chief or high ranking officer) or dispatch prior to arrival on scene. This would not be any different if there was a “county” department. There would still be a district chief (or many) for each area, there would still be each crew assigned to their own area and learning area hazards and roads in their own area. Going to an incident outside their assigned area would still have a lack of knowledge of that area. Not to mention having each department in said county having to come to an agreement over pay, costs of water (and where it comes from), contracts, medical costs (ambulance) and staffing levels, amongst other things.
      That being said, I don’t agree with station closures or cutting back staffing levels.

      1. Figure, 20 cities and towns in Bristol County. 20 chiefs, 20 staffs, 20 training facilities, 20 repair shops, 20 piecemeal equipment requests(Dartmouth has three of each). One County eliminates the bureaucracies, all firefighters on same pay scale, same training responding as one cohesive unit. Equipment purchased in quantity at a savings. Total response times faster! They do it around the country, ever hear of L.A. County Fire? No one wants to give up their little club and that's the problem, they're getting expensive! It's a win for everyone except the bloated management of FD's.

  3. So many questions come to mind, but first, my heart goes out to all the people affected by this tragedy.

    This is another example of how valuable the firefighters and EMT's are.
    I can't help but wonder how many residents in total occupied the building.
    Also, only one bathroom per floor is very concerning. How many share that bathroom and what do the building codes say about that?
    The lack of kitchens makes me wonder if residents used any portable cooking devices such as hotplates.
    I trust that there will be a comprehensive investigation that might provide some answers, so that people forced to live in these type of buildings and depend on municipal regulations enforcement to keep them safe, don't have to die.

  4. You can almost guarantee that people were using hotplates and/or toaster ovens even though they were not allowed. I wonder immediately about what kind of shape the wiring was in, in a building that old. People also tend to stuff a lot of things in those rooms, plenty of kindling. I think that the people who own the building are in for a lot of grief when the investigation is done. I doubt that the place had a hard-wired smoke alarm system, so it's possible that even if there were smoke detectors it's possible that the batteries were dead or missing. I pray that some of the owners who purchase these types of buildings for $1.00, simply to bleed people who are down on their luck, will take notice that there are real, live human beings living there! So very, very sad.

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