All Sections

Home | Public Safety

4-alarm fire a frightening wake-up call for 15 residents of city apartment house

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 16. 2018 9:04PM
Manchester firefighters battle a blaze at 374 Merrimack St. Monday morning. Fire officials said the fire was started by smoking in bed. (JEFFREY HASTINGS)

A Manchester firefighter works to put out a blaze at 374 Merrimack St. Monday morning. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Fire officials said a smoker who dropped a cigarette in bed likely sparked a four-alarm fire at daybreak Monday that destroyed a three-story tenement in the center city.

The fire displaced six families and cast a choking smell of wet smoke throughout a center-city neighborhood.

Both the second and third floors of 374 Merrimack St. were engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived shortly after receiving a call at 5:25 a.m., the fire department said. Worried that residents might be trapped, rescue workers spent 10 minutes going into apartments before being called out of the building.

“They couldn’t get to the third floor if they wanted to,” District Fire Chief Hank Martineau said. A family that had been unaccounted for was later found in a friend’s apartment.

Nearly two hours after the start of the fire, Manchester and Bedford firefighters were still dousing flames and poking at the roof as smoke escaped. The campfire-like smell enveloped the Enright Park neighborhood.

“I woke up to screaming,” said a man who would give only his first name, Gary, and said he lived in the building next door. Flames had engulfed the third-floor porch and stretched into the apartments, he said.

Smoke detectors were sounding, and heavy black smoke made it hard to see, he said.

The third floor suffered the most damage, with embers showing in some spots and a collapsed roof draped over the porch. The second floor was badly charred. The first floor suffered water and smoke damage.

The building, valued at $297,000 for tax purposes, was purchased in 2016 by Monica Kovalsky and transferred the following year to a limited liability company.

Bill McLauren, the property manager, said it is too early to tell what will happen to the building. McLauren said he spent most of Monday speaking to the tenants and trying to line up housing for them.

“I only have one other two-bedroom apartment open right now,” he said. He said the Red Cross is also helping; the organization said early Monday it was assisting a family of four.

McLauren said some tenants were able to access their apartments later in the day.

“Somebody (on the second floor) needed the keys to their car, and they were sitting on the counter, but I don’t know if you’re going to get a Teddy bear,” he said.

In a statement, the fire department said 15 people were living in the building.

The fire started in the bedroom of Apartment 3, which is located on the second floor.

An occupant told investigators he was smoking in bed and dropped his cigarette, fire officials said.

“He states that when he realized he had dropped the cigarette, the side of the bed was on fire,” the statement reads.

The Fire Department estimated damage at $300,000.

Public Safety Fires Manchester

More Headlines