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Fire started by landlord using blow torch to thaw water pipes

DERRY — A fire that displaced two families Saturday was started by a landlord using propane torch to thaw frozen pipes, according to fire officials.

A woman with a history of respiratory problems developed shortness of breath at the scene of the fire at 5 Mt. Pleasant St. and had to be taken by ambulance to Parkland Medical Center, Derry fire Battalion Chief Jack Webb said in a report.

The initial alarm came in at 8:49 a.m. and fire crews responded to the scene. Upon arrival, smoke could be seen coming from the front of the 100-year-old two-family house, Webb said.

The building included a balloon-framed house with an apartment addition in the rear. A family of three adults lived in the main house and another family of two adults lived in the rear apartment. Two dogs lived in the main house, Webb said.

All of the occupants were out of the building when firefighters arrived. The occupants reported a fire in the walls in the rear apartment.

Fire crews quickly knocked down the fire and proceeded to dismantle several exterior and interior walls to extinguish a spreading fire. The crews also ventilated the structure while using air monitoring equipment to ensure that toxic gasses were removed, Webb said.

The fire was reported under control at 9:43 a.m.

Because of damage to the piping and electrical systems, both units were deemed uninhabitable, Webb said.

None of the occupants had renter's insurance or a place to stay. The American Red Cross responded to help the two families. Most of the damage was limited to the structure and the occupants were able to recover most of their belongings, Webb said.

When the fire broke out, the department was inundated with other calls coming in from the area, Webb said.

"Fortunately there were two dispatchers on during this incident, because they had to dispatch calls in Derry, Hampstead, Windham and Auburn that occurred while units were at this fire," Webb said.

Ten of the calls were in Derry and included a cardiac arrest save that was handled by a Londonderry engine crew and Derry medic staffed by both on duty and recall personnel, Webb said. Derry police also responded to the cardiac arrest.

Between 8:43 a.m. and 1 p.m., Derry fire personnel, recall personnel and mutual aid were committed to a variety of calls, including water problems, fire alarm activations, falls and medical emergencies, Webb said.

The fire is being investigated by the Derry Code Enforcement and Derry Fire Prevention Bureau.



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