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Massive pre-dawn fire leaves several homeless in Bristol

Flames tore through a multi-family residence located at 50 Beech St. in the early morning hours on Monday, then spread to another apartment building next door, promoting a four-alarm fire. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 05, 2018
BRISTOL – Several residents in Bristol were forced to flee their homes early Monday morning when fire broke out in a building at 50 Beech St. The fire, believed, initially at least, to have started in the back of the multi-family residence, had flames shooting high into the pre-dawn sky when fire fighters arrived shortly before 5 a.m. and quickly spread to a neighboring apartment complex at 40 Beech St.

A resident in that building said that as they were grabbing their pets to evacuate, the windows began to explode from the intense heat of the fire.

"I got two of my three cats then had to get out. All I have now is them and my car," she said as she watched fire fighters battling the blaze.

In just a short time the first alarm call for mutual aid expanded to a second, then a third and finally to a fourth alarm, bringing in fire fighters and equipment from all over central New Hampshire, including Concord.

As neighbors watched in shock, embers were falling to the ground, prompting a few nearby homeowners to pull out their own hoses to wet down their roofs.

"This is an old house. I'm not taking any chances," said one man as he sprayed his roof where numerous burning chucks of debris had landed.

With a push from a light breeze, those embers also made their way down to South Main Street where the owner of Bristol Diner kept a close watch on his property as well.

Bristol Fire Chief Ben LaRoche reported that there were no civilian injuries and fortunately only one minor incident among the fire fighters. One resident with a medical condition had to be assisted out of the building and left his beloved dog behind but fire fighters were able to enter the apartment and rescues the grateful pup. Sadly, a few other pets in were lost in the two buildings however.

The homes were both multi-family dwellings, thought to have as many as eight apartments between the two of them, with approximately 20-25 people currently in residence. Among the many other concerns for fire fighters that morning was the number of dwellings in close proximity to the two that were involved and they fought to prevent the flames from extending to any other neighboring residences. One woman who lives across the street from the fires said the heat from the flames could be felt inside her daughter's bedroom, causing them some concern for a short while.

Central Square and South Main Street were closed for about four hours so tanker trucks could draw water from the Newfound River then pump it up to the scene. As a result, traffic had to be rerouted through town and some school buses were unable to reach stops for students who live in the Beech Street neighborhood.

The fire was brought under control in approximately two hours but flames continued to shoot from pockets of the buildings well beyond that and crews remained on scene for several more hours to finish extinguishing the massive fire.

When the scene quieted down later in the day, one woman said she was a visitor at 40 Beech St. and was still stunned by the morning's tragedy. She said she had awakened somewhere around 4:45 a.m. that morning to use the bathroom when she noticed a strange light outside the window.

"I looked out and saw this small glow that all of a sudden just blew into a huge ball of fire. I've never seen anything like that in my life and I just started yelling for everyone to get up and get out because the building was on fire," she said. "I never heard any smoke alarms going off at all."

Friends of the residents at 50 Beech St. said they heard similar stories from the people in that building where the fires first started.

"They told me someone happened to get up and when they looked out, they saw flames in the back of the building and started getting everyone out," one reported.

Of the two residences, 50 Beech St. received the heaviest damage, and was a complete loss. Next door a back extension to that building was completely destroyed but some held out the hope that the front quarters may be somewhat salvageable, despite heavy smoke and water damage. The State Fire Marshal's Office was called in to help conduct an investigation and the Red Cross met with the displaced residents to lend assistance for food, temporary shelter, clothing and any other immediate needs.

Looking up the hill from the corner of Beech and South Main Streets, one local resident commented, "Boy that was a real catastrophe up there, but it could have been so much worse. Thank God for mutual aid. They all did a great job!"

Among the fire departments that rushed to assist Bristol fire fighters were Alexandria, Andover and East Andover, Ashland, Belmont, Bridgewater, Campton-Thornton, Center Harbor, Concord, Danbury, Franklin, Gilford, Gilmanton, Grafton, Hebron, Hill, Holderness, Laconia, Meredith, New Hampton, Plymouth, Rumney, Sanbornton, Waterville Valley and Wentworth.

Editor's note: The names of those we spoke with who were displaced by Monday morning's fire have been withheld from publication out of respect for their privacy, and for the trauma they have endured.

Tiffany Eddy
Martin Lord Osman
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