MANCHESTER - Newlyweds Jed and Danielle Tocci were in bed when they heard a popping noise from the apartment above followed by a buzzing smoke alarm and choking sounds from their neighbor, Charles Sullivan.
"I could hear him coughing. He wasn't moving," Mrs. Tocci said Saturday outside her apartment building.
She called 9-1-1 while her husband ran up the outside stairs and went into the third-floor hallway. But he said the smoke - "so thick, so black and acrid" - held him back. He screamed in vain.
Mrs. Tocci worried about her husband's fate. "I was freaking out you weren't going to come out (alive)," she said.
The Toccis, however, couldn't save their neighbor.
Sullivan, 31, had moved into his apartment at 169 Joliette St. around New Year's Day, according to the Toccis. Sullivan was a drummer in a band, Mr. Tocci said.
Rene Morin, who owns the building across the street, said he talked with the landlady from the burned building. She told Morin that Sullivan fought in the military either in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The Toccis, married in August, returned Saturday to the second-floor apartment where they hosted family for Thanksgiving.
"The place had a lot of good memories for us for such a short time," Mr. Tocci said.
He rented the place last February, and his wife moved in last August. Now they are staying with family for the time being.
On Saturday, they found ruined wedding gifts, including a toaster oven "just caked in ice" from water from firefighter hoses, said Mrs. Tocci, who was grew up in Manchester. They think their photos are fine, as well as much of their clothing and wood furniture.
Fire investigators still are working to determine what caused the fire, reported at 12:20 a.m. Friday, at the five-unit apartment building.
"It's still undetermined, and it's still under investigation," said District Fire Chief Al Poulin.
Poulin, who worked the fire, said it was "a good size magnitude" blaze, and firefighters kept the flames from reaching the triple-decker next door, an estimated 15 feet away.
Other tenants included a woman who lived on the second floor for more than 20 years and her daughter and two grandchildren who lived in a first-floor apartment, according to the Toccis.
Morin, who slept through the fire, called the fire hitting so close to home "scary."
In the past two days, he said, he had seen "hundreds of cars just taking a look and taking pictures."