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Probe into Easter Sunday convent fire in Claremont continues

Union Leader Correspondent

June 15. 2014 8:54PM

CLAREMONT — The Easter Sunday fire that destroyed St. Mary’s convent is still under investigation by the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

“At this time, based on the information available, the fire cause is undetermined. The investigation is still open, but there is no evidence of any criminal aspect,” said lead state fire investigator, Danielle Cole, in an email Saturday.

A 911 call reporting the fire came from a Sullivan Street home in the early hours of April 20.

The initial tone went out at 2:25 a.m. Easter Sunday.

Firefighters were on scene within minutes, but it was apparent the convent building was too far gone to save, according to Claremont Fire Chief Rick Bergeron.

Firefighters focused on preventing the fire from spreading to the St. Mary School building — now the New England Classical Academy — next door, which was as close as 15 feet at some spots to the old convent.

Within an hour of response, the roof of the convent collapsed.

It was constructed of tin rubber materials.

The roof materials protected pockets of the fire creating areas of hidden fires. An excavator was brought in the following day to help firefighters find those spots, some of which were discovered in the old masonry walls of the convent.

It took 36 hours for firefighters to fully extinguish the fire, and the surrounding buildings were successfully saved.

Demolition of the convent started soon after.

There were no injuries in the blaze.

The building was constructed in the 1830s, but had not been used in years. St. Mary School was the oldest Catholic school in the state when it closed in 2009.

A high school affiliated with the school closed about 45 years ago.

The convent was assessed by the city for $1.6 million and had been owned by the Diocese of Manchester since it assumed ownership from St. Mary Church in 1974.

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