STRAFFORD – A family of six, including three children and an infant, were lucky that smoke woke them up before a fire tore through a 242-year-old home they had been renting for about a year, according to Fire Chief Paul Stover.
Stover said he had just stoked the fire in his own wood stove when he heard the first report of a structure fire at 483 First Crown Point Road, Apt. 1, around 4:30 a.m. By 4:43 a.m., police, firefighters and emergency personnel had responded to the scene, where fire and heavy smoke was billowing out of the home.
By the time he passed the home on the way to the nearby Crown Point substation, Stover said two adults and four children – ages 11, 9, 2 and the baby - left the home and tossed the family cat out the door as they fled for safety.
"Given the conditions and lack of smoke detectors, it could have been a tragedy," Stoker said, adding the American Red Cross is assisting the family.
Stover, who first arrived with Officer Randy Young, said he sounded three alarms within the first 10 minutes at the scene, and called for five within an hour to bring additional firefighters to help battle the wind-driven fire.
Local crews were assisted by firefighters from Allenstown, Barnstead, Barrington, Chichester, Deerfield, Farmington, Louden, Milton, Northwood, Nottingham, Pittsfield and Rochester. Epsom and Louden provided station coverage.
"The wind met the back of the house square-on," Stover said, explaining that stoked the fire in the old farmhouse, which was made with square nails and thick, heavy timbers – providing plenty of fuel.
Stoker said the cold temperatures hampered efforts since hoses and equipment froze. Although the home was a total loss, firefighters were able to save the attached garage and remove the large propane tank before it ignited, he added.
"They shut it down, cut it (the line) and rolled it," Stoker said.
Stoker said the 2½-story home was constructed in the post-and-beam style, and had narrow stairways, which made access difficult. He credited Rochester firefighters who attempted an interior attack before being forced out by the intense fire.
While Chichester brought a rehabilitation truck, Stoker said firefighters kept warm in the nearby fire station, which was within sight of the fire.
"It helps a lot because it's so bitter cold," Stoker said.
Despite the constant wind, with gusts of up to 50 mph, Stoker said firefighters were glad it was blowing into a snow-covered field across the road, rather than towards nearby homes.
"If this was late fall or early spring, we'd be chasing spot fires all day long," Stoker said.
He said firefighters would have to hose down the smoldering pile of rubble during the day. He added they might even ask the town's road agent to break through the debris as a precaution.
Stoker said the fire, which appears to be accidental at this time, remains under investigation.
"We have an area of origin, but not a cause," Stoker said, adding firefighters will talk to the property owner to determine how the home was laid out and what appliances or equipment could have been inside.