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January 24. 2014 11:59AM

Nashua firefighters rescue four; official says blaze was arson

NASHUA — Four people were rescued from a burning building early Friday as firefighters found them hanging out of a second-story window at a Beard Street residence.

Shortly after midnight, city fire crews responded to a fire at 5 Beard St. and were alerted that people were still inside and trapped on the second floor.

Four occupants — two adults and two children — were leaning out a second-floor window when they were rescued by firefighters, said Deputy Fire Chief Karl Gerhard.

He said furniture was blocking a fire escape. Other occupants of the five-unit building were awakened by fire crews and were able to leave the building once firefighters were on the scene, said Kevin Kerrigan, deputy fire chief.

The fire was in the stairway and hallway of the second floor, and was quickly brought under control, according to fire officials, who said the majority of the fire damage was limited to that one small area, not in an apartment.

Kerrigan said the fire is under investigation by the Nashua Fire Marshal’s Office and Nashua police.

Although fire officials would not elaborate on whether the blaze could be suspicious, an official with the city’s Code Enforcement Department said Friday afternoon that the fire is believed to be arson.

"The person who started it has already admitted it,” said Nelson Ortega, code enforcement manager. He said two of the five units within the building have been declared unsafe and uninhabitable. Occupants of the other three units are able to return to their apartments, he said.

Five people were displaced because of the fire, but all of them were staying with friends or family, according to Kerrigan, who said there was no need for American Red Cross help.

The occupants who were rescued — ages 25, 23, 3 and 2 — were fortunate, Kerrigan said, because the fire started at a time when most people might be sleeping. He said at least one resident was awake and smelled smoke.

The family could not leave their apartment because the fire was burning by their door in the outside hallway, and a large piece of furniture was blocking a fire escape.

Firefighters used a ladder truck to rescue the four residents; none of them were injured.

"They were actually okay,” said Kerrigan.

Fire officials said the extreme cold proved challenging, with ice forming on firefighters, their equipment and the ground.

Although smoke detectors were present, Gerhard said none of them were sounding when crews arrived.

"Always be sure you have working smoke detectors and practice a home escape plan with your family,” said a release. "In this (Friday morning) fire, a fire escape from the affected occupant’s apartment was blocked by a large piece of furniture. Make sure your second egress is accessible. Your family’s lives depend on these factors.”

Ortega said there was fire and water damage to two of the five apartment units, and code enforcement workers found other minor code issues while they investigated.

khoughton@newstote.com

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