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Updated: Fire hits Pariseau high rise in Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 15. 2013 8:48PM
Manchester District Fire Chief James Burkush speaks with a resident of the Pariseau high rise this afternoon after a fire in Apt. 210 forced people from their homes. (David Lane/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER— Some residents of the Pariseau highrise were forced from their homes Tuesday afternoon when fire broke out in a second-floor apartment of the 11-story building that houses elderly and disabled people.

Manchester fire officials said a sprinkler system, installed about two years ago, kept the fire in Apartment 210 in check.

But smoke proved pesky, prompting many to leave the building. The fire department moved 41 to the Cashin Senior Center temporarily to stay warm.

"The smoke was so bad, so thick, I didn't want to go out there," said Dan Teal, who lives next to Apartment 210. He said a firefighter twice knocked on his door to get him to leave. The second time, he offered Teal an air mask.

"Even wearing that mask I was coughing," Teal said. He said water from sprinklers was about a half-inch deep in the hallway.

The building contains about 100 apartments.

Fire Chief James Burkush said firefighters evacuated second-floor residents, others left on their own, and firefighters carried residents with mobility challenges out of the building. Elevators could not be used until the fire department determined they were safe, he said.

Because of fire walls and the building's non-combustible nature, it was safe for many residents to simply close their door and remain safe inside their apartment, Burkush said.

Meanwhile, a deputy fire marshal was shaken up when the Manchester Fire Department van was involved in an automobile accident enroute to the fire.

Police had no details on the accident Thursday night, other than to say no one was hurt and it took place at Amory and McGregor streets, in front of the high-rise.

As of early Tuesday night, four apartments had to be cleaned out and were uninhabitable, said Dick Dunfey, executive director of the Manchester Housing and Redeveloment Authority. He said residents were staying with friends or in a hotel.

Also last night, District Fire Chief Mark Pelletier said the cause of the fire was undetermined, and investigators were waiting to interview the tenant in Room 210. He was transported to the hospital for observation, he said.

The fire appears to have started in a piece of upholstered furniture, he said.

Burkush said the resident, who tenants identified as David Desrochers, was not in his apartment at the time of the fire. He said the fire appears to have started in the living room of the apartment.

"You can't underestimate the power of the sprinkler system to contain the fire. It really in this case made all the difference in the world," he said.

The housing authority installed sprinklers in all its high-rise apartments in the last several years, a project speeded up by federal stimulus funds, Dunfey said. He said a few fires take place each year in housing authority high rises, but a fire to the extent of Tuesday's fire is unusual.

Several residents said the smoke contained a strong odor of burned plastic.

Seventh-floor resident Jodee Volpe said she heard the alarm and exited the building. A fellow resident let her borrow a woolen blanket, which she draped around her shoulders.

"There's no real danger unless someone can't get out," she said.

A fifth-floor resident who only wanted his first name used said two older women couldn't breathe, so he notified firefighters.

"The alarm goes off all the time," Richard said. "You don't think of anything until you open your door and see the smoke."

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