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In aftermath of condo fire, residents offer perspective

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 17. 2012 11:09PM
Lesli Rotondo carries a pair of skis as residents continued to sift through their belongings on Friday following Thursday's early-morning fire on Eastern Avenue. (DAVID LANE / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Residents of a condominium building gutted by fire got their first look inside the wreckage Friday, thankful to have survived the quick-moving fire that struck in the middle of the night.

Investigators said the building at Deerhaven Preserve on the eastern edge of Manchester did not have a sprinkler system, which wasn't required by state code when it was built. The wooden frame burned quickly after the first calls came in around 1 a.m. Thursday. Firefighters had to rescue some residents from balconies because the stairways were blocked by smoke and flames.

'I think the only thing that's really getting me through this is, it's just stuff,' said Lisa Theroux, who lived on the third floor with her husband, Chad, and their baby. 'We got our daughter. We got our dog and we have each other. We have a huge family and friends support system. We'll get through it. That's what we have to keep telling ourselves.'

The Therouxs were able to enter the building Friday, donning hard hats after crossing the yellow caution tape and making their way inside to see what - if anything - could be salvaged.

The family's home was on the northwest corner of the building, away from the most-heavily damaged units in the middle. Although their belongings weren't burned, everything in their condominium smelled of smoke and was still wet from the water used to contain the four-alarm blaze.

Their new Mazda SUV that had been parked out in front was in the body shop, where the damage was being assessed. The Therouxs felt fortunate just to have gotten out safe. They recounted their escape Friday in the parking lot, pointing out the charring on the building just a few feet from the doorway they had run through to safety.

'The hardest part for us is we have an infant,' Lisa said. 'It's all her baby stuff and some heirlooms. We just don't know the status and if they're going to be recovered or not.'

The Therouxs were staying with Chad's parents in Pembroke. Other residents were staying at nearby hotels, at least temporarily.

A meeting was scheduled for today at the Deerhaven Preserve condominiums clubhouse, just north of the building. The south face of the building was blackened from the ground to the third floor and a large blue tarp covered the gaping holes where the flames burned through the roof.

The wooden balconies were gone and boards covered where the sliding-glass doors and windows, where the glass blew out or was broken by firefighters.

Deputy Chief Daniel Goonan of the Manchester Fire Department said Friday a discarded cigarette outside the building was the apparent cause. Investigators looked into reports that something exploded, but could find no evidence of anything blowing up and causing the noise, which could have been glass shattering because of the heat.

Because the building was built before state code required sprinklers for new multifamily developments, there was no internal system for putting out the flames, Goonan said.

'They're going to need sprinklers when they want to rebuild,' Goonan said.

Once the fire started outside, the wooden structure under the vinyl siding quickly ignited and spread, causing flames that neighbors said shot more than 50 feet in the air.

Residents tried to remain positive Friday, but that was difficult as reminders of the fire were everywhere. The air still smelled of smoke and charred debris littered the ground.

Laurie Downing had just come from the apartment she was renting on the second floor, directly above where the fire started near a first-floor patio. Her hands were covered in soot after trying to find anything she could salvage.

'I heard this really loud pop - bang - it almost sounded like gunfire and glass breaking. Then I saw a bright flash in front of my window,' she said. 'Seconds later I heard a second round and the second round sounded like the glass was breaking in front of my living room.'

The building used to be part of an apartment complex before Brady Sullivan bought it and converted it into condominiums about five years ago, said Arthur Sullivan, principal of the development company.

Sullivan said his company still owned six units in the building, but the rest had been sold. He said maintenance at the building falls under the condo association, not Brady Sullivan. He said the Brady Sullivan tenants were offered vacancies in other buildings or properties in the interim.

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries and one resident was treated and released for smoke inhalation, Goonan said. The three firefighters were back on the job Friday, when work at the building centered around cleaning up and reassessing the damage.

'There's obviously a lot of stuff in there and they're just trying to figure it out,' Chad Theroux said. 'It could be a while.'

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