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April 20. 2012 1:34AM

Three-alarm fire hits Manchester apartment complex


This apartment building at 33 Croteau Court was damaged in a fire early Friday morning. (Thomas Roy / Union Leader)


Residents and onlookers watch the fire at 33 Croteau Court early Friday morning. (Thomas Roy / Union Leader)

By PAT GROSSMITH

New Hampshire Union Leader

UPDATED, 10:15 a.m. - MANCHESTER - An overturned oil lamp caused a three-alarm fire early Friday morning in an apartment building on Croteau Court displacing 41 residents, two of which had to be helped out of the burning, smoke-filled building by firefighters.

The fire broke out just after 12:30 a.m. District Fire Chief Michael Gamache said fire crews were delayed getting to the scene by about 30 seconds because engines had been dispatched just moments earlier to a fire on Elm Street. That turned out to be a small kitchen blaze and the trucks were rerouted to the much larger fire at 33 Croteau Court.

Engines, equipment and firefighters from other parts of the city also soon arrived at Croteau Court. The fire, determined to be accidental, started when an oil lamp was knocked over in apartment 3-D, which is on the third floor of the 24-unit, garden-style apartment building, according to Gamache.

Flames were showing from the roof as firefighters arrived. Gamache said the fast-moving blaze swept through the apartment, sending flames racing into an open attic and out to the exterior of the building.

Fire crews began an immediate search of the building for tenants, locating a man who has difficulty walking and his wife on the second floor, directly below the apartment where the fire started. They were helped out of the building as it rapidly filled with smoke. The couple were taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, Gamache said.

As the search and evacuation were taking place, Gamache said the fire accelerated in the attic space. Licks of flame blossomed through the cindered, collapsing roof. Firefighters were ordered out for a time as streams of water were poured onto the blaze to suppress the flames. After a time, with air tanks, axes and water lines, firefighters went back in to fight the fire from the inside.

Off-duty firefighters were called in as the fire went to three alarms. In all, between 150 and 200 firefighters were at the scene. It took an hour and 15 minutes to get the fire under control, damage was estimated to be about $200,000..

Victor Vallee of Manchester credited David Lynch, manager of the apartment complex, for getting his mother out of the building. Laura Vallee, 67, who has lived at the complex for eight years, didn't hear the smoke alarms because she is hard of hearing.

Lynch, who Vallee says lives in another building at the complex, went in and knocked on his mother's apartment door. When she didn't respond, he unlocked the door, went inside and found her still asleep.

"I just want him to get some recognition for what he did," Vallee said.

Lynch never mentioned his actions Friday morning when a reporter spoke to him about the fire and damage. The apartment complex was built in 1981-82, before sprinklers systems were required, he said. There has never been a significant fire in the apartments, he said, though there have been small kitchen fires that never required a 9-1-1 call.

Lynch, reached later Friday, played down his actions. "I just banged on the door," he said. "There were a lot of people going around banging on doors, probably two to three people. I don't think it was that big a deal. There were other people in the building who made a nice effort to get everybody out."

Lynch doesn't know when tenants will be able to return, many apartments will have to be completely renovated due to water damage. Gamache said it is uninhabitable at this time because utilities - gas, water and electric - were all compromised.

The roof caved in, Gamache said, and city officials will have to determine if the building is structurally sound. He said six apartments were destroyed in the fire while most of the others were only damaged by water and smoke.

"Some people didn't lose any possessions and some lost everything," he said.

Those tenants whose apartments were the least affected were let back into the building this morning to collect clothing, eye glasses, medications and other possessions.

Don Parkinson Jr., who lives on the first floor at the opposite end of the building from where the fire began, was one of those. He said two inches of water covered his entire apartment that also had heavy smoke damage. Parkinson said he has no fire insurance.

The Red Cross was on the scene and is assisting displaced residents.


Manchester firefighters cleanup after a 3 alarm fire at the building on 33 Croteau Court, where 41 were displaced and 2 were rescued by fireman and taken to the hospital. The fire was called in at 12:33 am on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)


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