March 29. 2013 4:51PM

Man credited with saving neighbors from torched Manchester triple-decker

New Hampshire Union Leader

Joe Brantley ran from his sister's house to alert residents when he saw fire at a Rimmon Street triple-decker (TIM BUCKLAND/Union Leader)

FIVE FAMILIES were left homeless Thursday night after a suspicious fire, started in garbage bins, sent flames into a five-unit, three-story apartment building at 658-660 Rimmon St. in Manchester. Fire officials estimated damage at $177,000 but that did not include owner Fern Vachon's two Jaguars that were stored in a padlocked garage in the rear. Both cars and the two-story garage were destroyed in the blaze. (Pat Grossmith/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER – The fire that drove nine people from their Rimmon Street apartments Thursday night was intentionally set, a fire official said.


Flames swept through the rear of the three-story building at 658-660 Rimmon St., causing about $177,000 in damage to the building along with three other buildings and power lines, fire officials said Friday.


No one was hurt, though nine residents — including three children — were displaced from the five-unit building, District Fire Chief Michael Gamache said.


The fire started in trash cans outside the building, Gamache said. Investigators seized evidence from the trash bins indicating the fire "was maliciously set," Gamache added.


Police and fire investigators are reviewing if the blaze is related to five to six other arson fires that occurred in the same four-block area during the last two years, Gamache said.


The fire was spotted by Joe Brantley, who saw the flames from his sister's home on nearby Bremer Street. It was first reported at 11:38 p.m.


"I just started pounding and kicking in doors," he said.


The building was evacuated by 11:45 p.m. A police officer and firefighters also assisted.


Firefighters poured water onto the flames, which extended to porches on the back of the structure built in 1910.


Resident Debbie Adams, dressed only in a bathrobe, stood near Brantley on the street outside the building, watching firefighters work.


"He's a hero," she said of Brantley. "He got everybody out."


Adams' son, Matthew, shook Brantley's hand and said: "Thank you for getting my parents out."


Susan Morin was visiting her daughter on nearby Hevey Street when she said she saw flames shooting more than 30 feet into the air.


"I never saw flames just so big and such black, black smoke," said Morin Friday morning, she'd driven through the alley behind the building to get a closer look at what remained.


According to the fire department, the blaze caused $150,000 in damage to the Rimmon Street apartment house and garage, owned by Fern and Linda Vachon; $5,000 in damage to siding on 644 Rimmon St.; $10,000 damage to siding at 666-668 Rimmon St; $2,000 to a garage and fence at 661 Hevey St; and $10,000 damage to power lines.


Owner Fern Vachon said he'd only returned from Florida yesterday. He learned the building he's owned for 30 years was in flames in a phone call around 12:30 a.m. Friday from a fire official.


He said the $177,000 damage estimate does not include his two Jaguars - a 1989 SJ12 with only 13,000 miles on it, which he'd bought brand new, and a 2000 Jaguar. The cars were stored inside a double padlocked, two-story garage in the rear.


The cars are now buried under the charred remains of the garage.


The five-unit apartment building was heavily damaged in the rear. Utilities have been disconnected to the building.


"There's no way they can live there," Vachon said, standing outside the burned-out building Friday morning. "It's a mess."


Thankfully, he said no one was injured in the fire and everyone made it out to safety including a mother and her three children who lived on the third floor of the building.


"We're just lucky nobody got burned. That's the most important thing," he said.