Neighbor, mailman rush in to warn of burning home
"We started opening doors as fast as we could," said neighbor Danielle Palmer, who lives across from the fire scene at 316 Merrimack St. "My only thought was just get whoever is in there out. It was spreading real fast out the front window."
Two people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, including postal worker Tom Sapienza, according to District Fire Chief Michael Gamache. One of them, Bill Kelly, the lone resident inside at the time of the fire, was taken to the hospital for evaluation, he said.
Sapienza, after being treated, returned to his postal truck, saying he wasn't allowed to talk to reporters but wasn't planning on going right home.
"I have to get back on my route," Sapienza said.
Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service's northern New England district, said letter carriers across the country help people in a variety of ways each year.
Rizzo said Sapienza, a postal worker since 2007, "will most definitely not be getting in trouble" for any mail getting delivered later than normal Saturday.
The fire's cause "was determined to be a cat who knocked over a candle on a hope chest," Gamache said.
The cat wasn't injured.
Firefighters responding to a half-dozen 911 calls found smoke and fire showing at the 2½-story, single-family home, Gamache said. He said several people burst into the house looking for people believed trapped inside.
"It's comforting that people will go to that extent for one another," he said. But because of the obvious dangers, Gamache said, "we don't recommend people entering burning buildings."
When Ryan Masterson turned the corner from Maple Street on to Merrimack Street, he saw smoke and went inside the building to help.
"I saw the flames starting to grow bigger," he said.
Masterson said he spotted a man with white hair leaving through the front door.
"He had no idea his house was on fire," Masterson said.
A man whose mother and uncle live in the building said he got a call saying the house was on fire.
"This house has been in the family for a long time," said the man, who didn't want to be identified. He said no one being seriously hurt was "the main thing."
Gamache said the house, owned by Sheila Nichols, sustained $75,000 in damage and will require extensive repair.
The occupants, Kelly and his sister, were staying with family.