ROCHESTER— Officials are investigating what a witness described as an explosion followed by a fast-moving fire on Bunker Drive, one of two building fires in town early Sunday morning.
In the first fire, six people including one child, were forced to flee shortly after 2:40 a.m. when fire broke out in their home at 627 Portland St. Firefighters were still on the scene of that fire when a resident called to report that a garage on 31 Bunker Drive was on fire.
Deputy Fire Chief Peter Cutrer said a resident of the Bunker Drive address said she heard an explosion before the two-story garage erupted in fire.
Cutrer said the fire was suspicious and launched an investigation into its cause. The garage, which had two stalls and an upper-level storage area, was destroyed in the fire.
The Portland Street fire was apparently caused by a malfunctioning chimney. The six people displaced won’t be able to return to the home right away. Cutrer said there was extensive damage caused by the fire, which broke out on the second floor.
“It was pretty bad,” he said. “They’ll be able to fix it.”
Mutual aid was called in from Milton, Farmington, Barrington, Durham and Somersworth to provide help at the fire scene and cover the Rochester fire.
Cutrer said having two fires in progress at close to the same time was a challenge for fire crews, who were facing raw early spring weather conditions.
“It was 32 degrees and raining sideways,” Cutrer said.
Rochester has a staff of 32 paid firefighters and approximately 25 volunteers. The corps of volunteer firefighters has fallen over the past several years, as more residents work a greater distance from Rochester.
“Everybody works for a living,” Cutrer said. “It’s not like the old days when you could shut down the mill and go to the fire.”
The fire department has asked the Rochester Town Council for funding for two additional firefighter positions.