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Residents blame neighbor for Thanksgiving fire that damaged West Side apartment building

By MICHAEL COUSINEAU
New Hampshire Union Leader

November 24. 2017 12:23PM
Flames shoot out of the roof of a building at 165 W. Hancock St. in Manchester (Jeffrey Hastings)



MANCHESTER — Pattie Harris enjoyed a Thanksgiving buffet at Ashworth By The Sea on Hampton Beach and then got a call hours later that a fire seriously damaged her West Side apartment building.

Thanksgiving is no longer “my favorite holiday,” Harris, 76, said Friday morning outside her 165 W. Hancock St. apartment.

“I’ll never forget that Thanksgiving for as long as I live,” she said of the holiday fire. “One for the books. Devastation.”

The fire, reported at 7:12 p.m. Thursday, injured four people.

District Fire Chief James Michael said Friday that one resident was treated and released for smoke inhalation. Three firefighters also were injured: one with an injured shoulder, a second with a facial injury and a third with a hand injury.

“All three finished their shifts,” he said.

The damage will displace some residents for weeks.

“The tragedy is some of the folks are going to be out through the holidays — both holidays,” Michael said of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Two residents said they feared such a fire could happen there.

Brian Erunski, who enjoyed dinner with his family in Auburn, said he was sleeping when his girlfriend woke up him and “told me the house was on fire.” Erunski, his girlfriend and their 3-year-old son, Preston, escaped safely.

Erunski, whose family “lost everything” in an electrical fire in Ashuelot about 15 years ago, said he’s been concerned for awhile about a fellow tenant he called a hoarder who smoked and often had cigarette burns on her clothes.

Two days before the fire, he said he told his girlfriend: “She’s going to burn the house down.”

The fire department said the fire was due to careless disposal of smoking materials.

The chief said firefighters told him the second-floor apartment where the fire started — the same one Erunski feared — had “a lot of stuff. They said it was pretty cluttered.”

Said Harris: “I’m so damn furious because it could have been avoided.”

George Kelley IV, principal of GDK Real Properties LLC, which owns the building, said he had similar complaints.

“We can’t control people’s personal behavior and we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place making people do the right thing,” Kelley said. “People shouldn’t smoke and people shouldn’t stash excessive personal possessions within their space.”

Kelley said he was working to find alternative apartments for his residents, saying it was too soon to decide on the fate of the burned building, which authorities estimated sustained $150,000 in damage.

The American Red Cross said it was in touch with five families with nine total people displaced by the fire to make sure they had food, a place to sleep, clothing and other essentials, according to spokesman Lloyd Ziel. The Red Cross was working to get in contact with a sixth family.

Firefighters rescued a total of four dogs and one rabbit. The animals suffered smoke inhalation but it appeared all would survive.

Jayson Claudio, who lives next door, said Friday he was watching a pit bull named Emma that lived in the damaged apartment building. He recalled the sounds coming from the third-floor apartment were of three dogs not barking but “screaming.”

“It’s a noise I can’t get out of my head,” Claudio said.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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