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Quick-moving fire destroys Sanbornton garage, cars; house saved

Union Leader Correspondent

December 14. 2014 8:53PM
Sanbornton firefighters at the scene of a garage fire at 118 Burleigh Hill Road. (Courtesy)

SANBORNTON — A woodstove placed too closely to a wall in a garage was the suspected cause of a one-alarm fire that destroyed a garage with two cars and a tractor inside, and heavily damaged a pickup truck nearby, late Saturday afternoon.

Fire Chief Paul Dexter said firefighters’ main goal in fighting the garage fire, which was fueled in part by explosive materials, was to save the house at 118 Burleigh Hill Road, which was about 20 feet away from the garage.

“The main push was to keep the house from going up, there were flames going across the driveway and it got close, but we made a good save,” Dexter said.

No one was hurt, but the garage and the vehicles were completely destroyed.

The home, owned by Robert and Anna Morrison Trust, according to 2013 town records, was occupied by its owners, who called 911 at 4:44 p.m. reporting that their garage was in flames. One of the occupants opened the door to the garage, and immediately the 30- by 50-foot-garage was filled with flames, Dexter said.

Investigators determined that a woodstove in the garage had a stove pipe that was just a few inches from the wall. The homeowner told Dexter the woodstove had been used to heat the garage for the past 20 years. The abutting home was built prior to 1974, according to town records.

“It appears that over all that time, the wood behind the stove had degraded, and it must have been very warm just before the fire,” Dexter said.

“The woodstove was not properly placed and set up, and a leak of some sort must have come out of the stove pipe, and it’s an older garage, so when the person opened the door, the whole place just went right up,” he said.

Dexter, who lives nearby, arrived at the garage at 4:46 p.m., but it was too late for that building, which had two “compact” cars inside, he said, as well as a tractor. A pickup truck outside was also damaged by the flames.

“I was literally there within two minutes, and the garage was already fully involved in flames,” he said.

Dexter said he’s not sure what kind of cars were in the garage. “I don’t know, there wasn’t enough left of them to tell,” he said.

The homeowners were not available for comment. Crews from Tilton-Northfield, Belmont, Franklin, Laconia, and New Hampton fire departments assisted in the effort to fight the fire. The fire was determined to be under control by 5:30 p.m.

Dexter said investigators found that once the garage caught fire, several portable fuel containers in the garage exploded.

“They were using the garage improperly as a workshop to work on their vehicles, and there were several small fuel sources inside that also caught fire and enhanced the fire considerably,” he said.”

The chief said there isn’t much firefighters can do beyond their public fire prevention efforts to keep such blazes from occurring.

“There are no inspections in this state for woodstoves,” Dexter said. “People can install them as they wish. Problems occur when they aren’t installed properly, as was the case here.”

Public Safety Sanbornton

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