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UPDATED: Lack of smoke alarms cited in deaths of Bridgewater couple

Union Leader Correspondent

February 10. 2014 8:41PM
The Bridgewater home of an elderly couple who died in a fire early Monday morning. (DAN SEUFERT/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

BRIDGEWATER — An elderly couple died of smoke inhalation Monday morning after a two-alarm fire filled their bedroom with smoke. Authorities say they might have survived had they had working smoke alarms.


Paul W. Morrill, Sr., 72, and his wife, Betty J. Morrill, 68, were found dead in their first-floor bedroom, which had a woodstove, Fire Chief Donald Atwood said. A fire burning overnight in the woodstove started a fire in the chimney, he said.


“The fire was caused as a result of a compromise in the chimney liner/mortar, which led to a partition fire that ultimately spread to other parts of the building," said Tom Schutzius, an investigator with the state Fire Marshal's Office.


The Morrills both were found out of their beds, a few feet from the door.


“They had made a few steps trying to get out," Atwood said.


He added: “Their physical conditions and illnesses might have slowed them down.”


There were no working smoke alarms in the house, the chief said.


“I didn’t see or hear any alarms," he said. “If there had been alarms, they might have been alerted earlier, and might have had a few more steps.”


The investigation revealed no evidence of any criminal intent; investigators classified the fire as accidental.


Firefighters went to the 2 1/2-story farmhouse about 12:40 a.m. A second alarm was called just before 1 a.m., bringing fire crews from eight towns.


Firefighters immediately looked for the occupants, fighting through smoke and debris that cluttered the inside of the house. They found the couple in their bedroom on the first floor.


The house is likely a total loss, officials said.


State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan urged people to be vigilant in keeping exits clear and unobstructed, and to make sure working smoke detectors are throughout the home.


Paul Morrill was one of the town’s first fire chiefs in the 1970s. He also worked for 40 years as a leader of the maintenance crew at Camp Wicosuta, a girls’ camp in Hebron; he retired from the camp five years ago.


Jane Morrill, whom Atwood called “a great homemaker,” also volunteered at the camp.


“Paul dedicated his life to the children at our camp. He built most of our buildings,” said Jay Cole of Bristol, the camp’s director. “And Jane has been baking all of our birthday cakes for years.”


Family members said the couple, who celebrated their 50th anniversary last year, dedicated most of their time to their children and relatives. Their son, Paige Morrill, was at the burned-out home Monday morning but did not want to speak.


Paul Morrill's cousin, Marty Morrill, said she was very sad.


“They were the salts of the earth," she said. “They did everything together and with their kids. They were the kind of people who followed old Yankee traditions in their lives.”


“They really loved their family,” Cole said.

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