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Manchester fire displaces 8 families, started in basement

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 25. 2011 1:53PM
A tearful Josephine Cole, 47, surveys the charred ruins of her first-floor apartment Sunday. The 558 Silver St. apartment was heavily damaged in an early Sunday fire that broke out in the nine-unit building. (Kathy Marchocki/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - More than two dozen Silver Street residents are homeless after a smoky two-alarm fire drove them in to the street early Sunday.

The fire started in the basement of the three-story apartment building at 558 Silver St. about 2:30 a.m. and was under control at about 3:07 a.m., District Fire Chief James Michael said.

Fire and police officials have yet to determine its cause. They are investigating the possibility it was arson.

So far, investigators found nothing in the area where the fire started that likely could have accidentally started the fire, such as wiring, appliances or other items, police said.

Marie Emmons, who lives in a second-floor apartment with her sister, Nicole, said smoke alarms woke them up about 2:30 a.m. Thick smoke filled the hallways, forcing them and her sister's two children to escape down the exterior stairs.

'We each grabbed a kid and we got outside,' Marie Emmons said.

'You couldn't see the building. It was covered in smoke. There were no flames,' she added.

Tearful first-floor tenant Josephine Cole, 47, stood amid the ruins of her kitchen, where dishes lay scattered in the sink, damaged ceiling tiles dangled overhead and scorched walls revealed views of her neighbor's apartment.

Cole, who works at a Wendy's restaurant, said she was awakened by the beeping of the smoke alarm, followed by a louder alarm. She got out of bed to find smoke seeping beneath her living room door.

'I jumped up and I got me out, and then I went trying to get everybody out,' she said.

Neighbor Rosalva Flores said she just got home from her job at Freed's Bakery to find the building on fire. The mother of two sons, ages 4 and 6, stood in her charred kitchen when a reporter asked through a neighbor boy what she plans to do.

'No se,' Flores replied, saying in Spanish that she didn't know what to do, while struggling to hold back tears.

Firefighters traced the fire to the basement, which is accessible by a side door off the alley that runs between 558 Silver St. and 564 Silver St.

District Fire Chief Michael said investigators are looking in to whether the door was locked or not.

Neighbor Eugene Emmons said the door recently had been left unlocked and said he notified landlord Mohammed Mobeen that he had seen strangers using the basement.

But Mobeen said the door was locked.

Eight of the nine apartments in the building were occupied, fire officials and residents said. Residents said they got out safely on their own.

American Red Cross in New Hampshire chief executive officer Maria White said the Red Cross put one resident up in a local hotel. That person had been hospitalized and later released, she said.

Manchester fire reported 28 occupants were inside the building when fire broke out.

The Red Cross reports they are assisting a total 35 people - 17 adults and 18 children.

Nicole Emmons and Marie Emmons, who each have two children, said they had no place to stay Sunday night and wondered what to do.

'They got no place to live,' Marie Emmons said of her two young sons.

The Red Cross responded to every family who indicated they needed help, White said. She said case workers will follow up with each displaced resident during the next three to five days to ensure their needs are being met, she said. The building currently is uninhabitable.

Anyone in need of assistance is urged to contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-464-6692.

Josephine Cole said she frequently complained about electrical problems in her apartment.

'When I tried to plug in something, all the lights went out,' Cole said. She said Mobeen sent someone to check out the problems.

'The electricity man came in and he said I needed new wiring. He said he would come back, but he never came back,' Cole added.

Mobeen said the building underwent a routine three-year city inspection two months ago. He said he corrected all deficiencies and the building was in compliance. Mobeen said his insurance company also inspected the building last week and found it to be in compliance.

'My smoke detectors were working fine and dandy,' Mobeen said.

'My wiring was working 100 percent,' he added.

Mobeen said a few residents in the building are 'under eviction. They owe me quite a bit of money. So whenever I ask them for money, they begin to call the health department or the fire department or they call City Hall.'

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