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Officials: Fatal Salem fire started in victim's apartment

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 12. 2018 11:59AM
One man died late Saturday in a fire that started on the second floor of Salem Crossing apartments, Salem fire officials said. (Doug Alden/Staff)

SALEM — A fire that claimed the life of an apartment resident started in that man’s apartment, authorities said Monday.

The fire originated in Unit 8 at the Salem Crossing Apartments on Cluff Crossing Road late Saturday.

“That is where the victim resided,” said Salem Fire Marshal Jeff Emanuelson.

The man’s identity was being held pending an autopsy and notification of relatives, he said.

He said the fire’s cause doesn’t appear suspicious, but “we’re waiting to finish up our interview with witnesses.”

The building’s management is working to get utilities restored to the building, so some residents with apartments less affected can return, Emanuelson said.

Firefighters used ladders to rescue several people and a woman jumped from a third-floor window to escape the blaze.

“They made every effort to get everyone out,” Fire Capt. Craig Lemire said Sunday of fire crews.

The fire at the Salem Crossing Apartments on Cluff Crossing Road was reported just after 11 p.m.

Heavy flames were already venting from the second floor of the 11-unit building when firefighters arrived; residents told fire crews that people were still trapped inside the building, Lemire said.

Four people climbed down ladders to safety; firefighters led one person out from inside the building. A woman jumped from a third-floor window, Lemire said.

All five were taken to Parkland Medical Center in Derry and are expected to survive, Lemire said.

Mike Phillips, who lives in another building at the complex, said he and his wife, Sue, were coming home Saturday night and saw the fire and people rushing from the building just before firefighters and police arrived.

Phillips said a woman outside was frantically screaming that a man had gone back inside the second-floor apartment, where a large window blew out.

“The flame was coming out the window and it got worse,” Phillips said. “She wanted to run back in after him.”

Phillips said he saw firefighters carry a man outside, then he went around to the north side, where he saw someone holding a little girl in a window on the third floor. A firefighter and policeman who had just arrived used a ladder to get the child, then helped her and several others climb down to safety, Phillips said.

“These guys are true heroes. They did a great job,” Phillips said.

The identity of the dead man is being withheld pending notification of relatives, Lemire said.

The state Fire Marshal’s office and Salem Fire Department aware working together to investigate the cause of the fire.

Some residents of the apartment complex just off South Broadway returned Sunday to see what belongings could be salvaged.

Jennifer Gervais, who lives in a second-floor unit across the hall from the apartment where the fire apparently started, said she heard an alarm, then rushed to get her family and pets out of the building.

“I opened up the door and there was smoke coming out,” Gervais said. “It was just crazy. It was so scary.”

Gervais and Richard Ortiz were waiting outside Sunday to get into their apartment and gather what belongings they could after spending the night with relatives. They said their four children, ranging from a year old to 16, escaped safely, along with their two dogs and a cat.

Crystallee Zielinski, the property manager, said repairs could take several weeks before the building is inhabitable again.

Lemire said given the hour the fire started, people were likely sleeping or getting ready for bed.

“It’s a very stressful situation that we don’t handle on an everyday scenario,” Lemire said. “You just react. It just sounds like everyone did a fantastic job for the situation they encountered.”

Public Safety Salem

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