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Belmont fire called 'suspicious'

Union Leader Correspondent

April 18. 2012 1:33AM
Flames raced through an apartment house in a fire termed 'suspicious' by the town's fire chief. (DAN SEUFERT)

BELMONT - One town firefighter was treated for minor heat exhaustion after battling a stubborn three-alarm fire Tuesday night that was termed "suspicious" by the town's fire chief.

A couple and their children who were living in the building escaped without injury.

Town firefighters were called to a two-story house at 14 Gale St. at 8:47 p.m. after several 911 calls reporting flames from a pile of discarded furniture and other materials at the base of the back side of the building, said Fire Chief David Parenti.

At the scene, Parenti called for a second alarm because flames were visible inside the building and in the back, he said. Soon after he called for a third alarm and summoned ladder trucks from Franklin and Meredith as the flames began shooting through the roof of the house.

'The fire jumped right into the attic and then right through the top of the house,' Parenti said. "The wind really pushed it."

The house was more than 50 years old, he said, and its previous owner had been cited for fire safety violations numerous times, though most of the violations were for lack of fire alarms, Parenti said. A bank currently has possession of the building, which had an appraised value of more than $200,000 in 2011, he said.

The only present tenants of the building were a couple and their two children, ages 11 and 17, according to The Red Cross. The family was about to move out, Parenti said.

'They told me they had to be out of the building within two weeks,' he said.

Parenti said the origin of the fire under close investigation.

'Where the fire started is suspicious,' he said. 'There's no reason for the fire to have started where it started.'

Neighbor Marc Tatham was welding in his garage when his father shouted that there was fire next door. Tatham said he ran out his door and saw a flames burning in 'a pile of junk' below the first-floor porch.

'It just went through the house from there, it was through the roof before you knew it,' he said.

Tatham, who said he called 911, knew that a family was living in one of the home's apartments, so he ran into the house, up the stairs, and knocked on the family's door. No one responded so he fled the house, he said

Minutes later, the four family members ran out of the house, said Tatham's mother, Milagros Tatham.

'All of a sudden the woman came running out, yelling 'What is happening? What is happening?',' she said.

The displaced family is staying with friends, Parenti said. The house is a total loss, he said.

Town firefighters were on their way to fight a three-alarm fire in Laconia when the 911 call came in, Parenti said. Firefighters from Tilton, Northfield, Meredith, Loudon, Gilmanton, Franklin, Concord, Chichester, and Canterbury helped fight the fire.

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