A fast-moving, eight-alarm fire early Saturday morning in Gloucester destroyed a four-story apartment building on Middle Street and Temple Ahavat Achim.

NEWBURYPORT — Karen Kushin’s fear of a deadly and destructive fire trumped the downtown Gloucester location, the panoramic ocean views and the inexpensive rents.

On Friday night, her worst fears were realized.

Until two weeks ago, Kushin and her family lived on the top floor of the four-story Lorraine Apartments, a 24-unit building in downtown Gloucester that burned down in a massive fire this weekend, killing one man — Robert Taylor, who lived directly below Kushin — and displacing 26 people. The fire also burned down the building next door, the Temple Ahavat Achim, even though both buildings are only 50 feet from the fire station.

Kushin lived in the building for four years with her husband and son but moved to Washington Street in Newburyport two weeks ago after the fear of a deadly blaze grew so strong she could not longer bear to live in the building.

“We got out because we were so afraid of a fire there,” she said. “I just couldn’t let go of the fear. Thank God we listened to our instincts and let our fear lead us.”

Kushin said her family lived in “probably the most dangerous apartment there,” a fourth-floor apartment directly above Taylor’s, a man they talked to almost every day.

Sometimes those conversations with Taylor turned to the possibility of a fire. The family always told Taylor, who was 70, that he should move.

“He kept saying, ‘I’m living on borrowed time living in this firetrap,’” Kushin said.

The Lorraine, constructed as a hospital in 1910, was described by fire officials as a legal firetrap by modern fire prevention standards.

A brick shell around a wood frame with a central chamber to the roof designed to provide light to the inside apartments, but which also acted as a chimney for advancing flames, the Lorraine stood just across School Street from the Central Fire Station, which served as a daily reminder of future trouble.

But when Kushin first moved to the apartment building, she said she and her husband, Jeff Smollett, both 53, were drawn by the building’s amenities and the location.

At the time, a deadly fire was the last thing on their minds, she said.

“You could look out every window and see the ocean,” Kushin said.

But her fears grew. Kushin said there were no fire escapes and that the building was well out of code.

“Everybody in the building knew it was a firetrap,” Kushin said.

Eventually, the fear of a fire was planted and continued to grow, she said, with several aspects of the building that added to the worry.

The building’s heating system was sporadic, Kushin said, heating up to the 80s and then turning off for hours, allowing the temperatures to drop to the low 60s.

Kushin said many people used space heaters to help heat apartments when the heat wasn’t working and said she “wouldn’t be surprised at all” if that were the cause of the fire.

“The heating system was very much like you never knew when it would come on,” she said.

Then there was the gentleman on the first floor, who was a smoker and also on oxygen, a combination that Kushin said increased her fear of a deadly blaze.

“I became obsessed with the fire fear,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kushin said, her husband didn’t want to move. One day, her husband encouraged her to go to the fire station to see firefighters to possibly ease her fears. She asked what plans were in place for the building and the answer she received was “the last straw.”

“They said, ‘Our plan is to watch it go up like a tinderbox,’” she said. “I said ‘Oh my God, there is no hope.’”

Then the news came Saturday morning, when she was safe inside her Newburyport apartment, that the Lorraine burned to the ground.

“I came out of my room screaming: Our building burned down, and Bob (Taylor) is dead,” she remembered screaming to her family.

At first, Kushin said her husband and son thought she was waking up from a bad dream, a reaction from her fear of a fire.

Gloucester fire Chief Barry McKay said the destructive force of the fire was so great he believes “no physical evidence will be found.”

Instead, he said the search for the cause of the fire “will be drawn from witness interviews and pictures of the scene.”

McKay’s account of the search for the cause of smoke that set off the building’s fire alarms late Friday night and caused the 911 call, centered in the basement of the building.

There, just a few minutes after the call, a team of firefighters, searching in one of the four basement apartments, reported out by radio “we think we’ve got it” only to learn moments later that they hadn’t — they reported finding sparks were falling down from a utility conduit in the wall to the upper floors.

It was sign the fire was already above them in the walls and ceiling.

Kushin said they are still quite shaken up by the events and even now the fear of fire continues. They are now thinking of moving again, to a building with a sprinkler system.

“Our fear just kept getting bigger, and we couldn’t ignore it,” she said. “We were just driven to go.”

Kushin said they were still in the process of moving out of the apartment complex and she had planned to go pick up the rest of her things today, including clothes and some pocketbooks.

“That’s how close it was,” she said. “But we made it by two weeks. Otherwise we might be homeless or even dead. ... We are very grateful.”

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