Artie Petropoulos works to board up the two-family building at 366 Pearl St. in Manchester, which was struck by fire early Monday. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER — The resident of a Pearl Street apartment said he lost nearly everything when a fire blackened the contents of apartment early morning on Christmas Eve.
Everything, that is, except the blanket-totting 9-year-old boy who calls him Daddy. And his cat, named Blaze, who is still coughing and hacking but very much alive.
Craig Ogden and the boy, Jaydon Labbe, are among the five people displaced from the two-family building at 366 Pearl St. home Monday. Manchester fire officials said they fire was so intense it initially drove firefighters from the structure, who then regrouped, re-entered and extinguished the fire.
Still, damage to the building was estimated at $100,000, and early Monday afternoon, workmen were boarding up the home, securing behind a plywood barrier any burned and soggy hopes of a normal Christmas for Ogden.
“Everything's gone, everything's gone; there's nothing,” said Ogden, 32, an unemployed lawn-care worker. That includes a 45-year-old Bonsai tree, $450 in coins, heirloom family furniture and a 47-inch flat-screen TV, he said.
Hobbled and dazed, Ogden recounted what happened in the early Monday hours when he woke to beeping that emanated from the basement. He had fallen asleep on the living room couch with Labbe beside him. (Labbe is not his biological son, but Ogden has cared for him since his birth and a breakup with the boy's mother.)
Labbe said he went to the basement to investigate. Flames and smoke pushed him back when he opened a 6-by-7-foot cedar closet where he put two cats he was pet-sitting.
He ran upstairs to get Labbe and his roommate out of the apartment. He screamed for upstairs neighbors to evacuate, and twice he returned to try to rescue animals, spraining his ankles while doing so.
He said the smoke was so thick he dropped to his knees and had to crawl outside.
“Daddy saved my life because I was sleeping,” Labbe said. “He kept going inside. I said 'come out, come out.' He could have died in the smoke.”
Ogden thought he had lost Blaze, a cat he's owned for 7 years. But the feline crawled under the bed of Ogden's roommate and burrowed inside the mattress, where it survived.
In the four days before the Pearl Street fire, three New Hampshire people have died in home fires, including a 2-year-old in New Ipswich and a 17-month-old in Londonderry.
Nearly every window of the 2 1/2-story structure was broken by early Monday afternoon. Vinyl siding discolored and crinkled outside the living room window. Inside, the living room and the bedroom of Ogden's roomate, Bob Jeffreys, showed the most damage.
Landlord Costas Georgakopoulas said it appears that an overloaded power strip was responsible for the fire. He said he was able to speak to his insurance agent, but the insurance company was closed for the Christmas holiday. Still, he was having workers board up the property.
Ogden spoke from the lobby of a local hotel, where the Red Cross has put him up for three nights. He said the Red Cross gave him a $480 debit card and a list of possible places to move, but all were closed Monday for Christmas.
He spoke highly of neighbors, who bundled him with clothes and blankets as he watched firefighters save the structure. And he praised Georgakopoulas for keeping smoke detectors in order.
As he spoke, Ogden's eyes drooped from a sleep-deprived, adrenaline-inspired restlessness. He walked around with a tired limp. Friends called on his cell phone. And he wanted to take his cat to see a vet.
Labbe insisted on staying with Ogden on Monday, but he was to eventually go to his mother's home for Christmas.