LACONIA – A man died in a fast-moving, four-alarm blaze that destroyed a townhouse apartment building at Davis Place and injured a firefighter who tried to go through a bedroom window to save the victim.
Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson said officials are not releasing the victim's name at this time.
Firefighter Kevin Pierce was suited in his protective gear but still suffered second-degree burns to his ears and neck in a flash over, Erickson said. At the time, Pierce was trying to go through a second floor bedroom window to rescue the man who later was found dead inside the 66 Davis Place apartment building.
Pierce stayed on, battling the blaze for about eight more hours before he was finally released from the scene, Erickson said.
The fire was reported at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday and when firefighters first arrived, porches on the first and second floors were already in flames and the fire had made its way inside two two townhouse apartments.
Erickson said the scene was chaotic. Firefighters were told people were trapped inside, sending fire crews into the burning building to help get people out to safety.
They did help a few get out, but believed three unaccounted for residents were still inside, trapped by the fast-moving fire.
One of the residents was the man whose body would not be recovered until hours after the fire was finally out. The other two residents, Erickson said firefighters found out much later, had made it to safety but left the fire scene.
Erickson said the fire started on an exterior porch. When he arrived, smoke alarms were sounding, but he said because the fire started on the outside, they did not go off until the fire had already made it into two of the apartments.
“The fire quickly overpowered the people,” he said. “It broke the windows and was inside two apartments almost simultaneously.” By the time the alarms went off, the fire was already “well advanced,” he said, and on two floors of the 120-foot long building.
Fire crews battled the blaze inside the building for 40 minutes, but still flames reached the cock walk (attic space) and traveled the length of the building.
Erickson said at one point firefighters had seven hoses pouring water on the building. They struggled, however, to take down the tin ceiling to get at hidden flames and cut the fire off at either end of the cock walk.
Forty minutes into the battle, firefighters lost the fire, he said. Portions of the roof and the second floor started collapsing under the weight of the water and firefighters were ordered out for their safety.
“The fire got ahead of us and that was the end of that,” said Erickson.
Freezing temperatures also hampered the operation. Temperatures were at zero degrees Fahrenheit, and about two hours into the battle, hoses and nozzles froze.
Firefighters, too, were covered in ice and had to be rotated out frequently to get warm.
“It was pretty brutal,” he said. “We are all cold, very tired and very sore.”
The Citizen Emergency Response Team, a group of volunteers, arrived on scene to provide food and coffee to the fire crews. They also convinced the owner of Huoy, a manufacturing company next door, to open up about 1:30 a.m. and allow the firefighters to use it as a warming station.
“We were dripping all over their place,” said Erickson, who appreciated the company's help.
The fire was finally brought under control about 2 a.m., more than three hours after it was reported. At 7 a.m. Wednesday, however, fire crews were still putting out hot spots.
Then came the painstaking and dangerous task of literally hand picking through the charred debris of the significantly structurally damaged building to find the victim, the chief said. It took firefighters four hours to locate him.
“It was very difficult. It was a slow, slow process,” he said.
He said the building is destroyed and will have to come down, with estimated damage at $600,000 to the building. Erickson said total damage could be $750,000 when the contents is added in.
The Red Cross will be helping the displaced residents and those in need of housing temporarily will be put up at the Landmark Inn.
State Fire Marshal Office investigators were on scene to try and determined what caused the deadly blaze.