A firefighter suffered only minor injuries late Friday when an exterior staircase collapsed and he fell nearly 25 feet while battling a blaze that destroyed an apartment house in Berwick.

Flames were first reported around 11:40 p.m. at the six-unit apartment building at 28 Old Pine Hill Road South. The fire started in a second-floor unit where flammable materials had been left too close to an electric heater, according to Berwick fire officials.

No residents were hurt but eight were displaced by the fire.

Three other South Berwick firefighters narrowly escaped injury when the stairway collapsed and they fell about 15 feet.

When crews arrived, the three-story building’s top two floors were showing heavy fire, said South Berwick Fire Capt. Patrick Gorman.

Told that a resident might be trapped on the third floor, Gorman said he and three other firefighters worked their way up the wooden staircase, knocking down flames as they went, each firefighter about three steps from the next man in the line.

When South Berwick firefighter Evan Adams reached the third-story landing, it gave way, Gorman said.

“There was no indication. It wasn’t wobbly,” Gorman said. “I remember hearing a crack and seeing wood and embers and flames, and we were face down.”

Gorman said he watched as Adams tried to grab the door jamb of the third-floor entrance but could not reach it.

Adams fell about 25 feet, Gorman said. He hit a small roof on the way down and then landed in a snowbank, Berwick Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Plante said.

Three of the firefighters, including Gorman, fell about 15 feet and landed on the second-story roof.

Evans was transported to a local hospital but was soon released. “He’s sore; no broken bones,” Gorman said.

It turned out that no one had been trapped inside the apartment house, Plante said.

The Red Cross provided financial assistance for food and clothing for seven of the eight people who were displaced by the fire, said John Lamb, spokesman for the American Red Cross of Maine.

Six fire departments, including Berwick, North Berwick and South Berwick, combined efforts to put out the two-alarm blaze.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

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Twitter: jcraiganderson