A Derry man and his pet dog lost their lives in a house fire on the last day of February.
Michael Lacharite, 48, died of smoke inhalation Friday, Feb. 28, when his residence at 357 Island Pond Road burned to the ground.
According to a press release from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the fire originated on a sofa in the living room and is determined to have been an accident resulting from smoking materials that were too close to papers and other rubbish.
There were no smoke alarms on the main level of the residence, according to the press release. One smoke alarm, estimated to be 20 years old, was found in the basement, but fire personnel said it was “not known” if it was functioning.
A press release from the Derry Fire Department stated that a passing motorist noticed smoke coming from the home and called 911 at 12:59 a.m. Units activated included Engines 1, 2, 3 and 4, Car 1, Tanker 1 and Medic 1. Fire Chief George Klauber said the first unit, Engine 2, arrived within four minutes of the call.
The crews were initially unable to enter the building due to the heavy volume of fire, and defensive fire operations were initiated. Crews performed a visual inspection on ladders and with thermal imaging cameras. Once crews were able to enter the building, offensive fire operations were begun and Lacharite was located.
The home is in an area of the community that does not have hydrants, and the water supply was provided by tankers from Derry and surrounding communities.
The home cannot be restored.
Lacharite, originally from Pelham, was a recent widower, losing his wife, Karen, in July 2013. He lived alone, was a Navy veteran and worked as a construction supervisor for S.M. Harrington Contracting in Dracut, Mass. He enjoyed camping, the outdoors, his dog, “Puppy,” and the New England Patriots.
Survivors include his mother, Ann Marie Lacharite of Pelham; two sisters, Erin M. Lacharite-Gibson and her husband, Richard, of Merrimack and Danielle Lacharite-Brown and her husband, David Charles, of Los Angeles, Calif.; nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins.
A Memorial Mass will be celebrated Saturday at 10 a.m. in St. Patrick Church, Pelham. Calling hours are Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Pelham Funeral Home.
Mutual aid on the fire was provided by Salem, Londonderry, Hudson, Pelham, Manchester, Auburn, Atkinson, Hampstead, Windham and Chester. Off-duty personnel were recalled, and station coverage was provided by personnel from Raymond, Kingston, Hooksett and Hampstead fire departments. The Salvation Army also assisted, with services to responders and investigators.
In a press release, state Fire Marshal J. William Degnan urged all New Hampshire residents to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of their homes. He wrote that smoke alarms should also be placed in bedrooms and interconnected, so if one goes off, they sound in all bedrooms. He also advised that alarms more than 10 years old be replaced, noting that they lose their effectiveness at that point.
Degnan also advised having two exit routes, both clear of storage and snow.
Derry Fire Battalion Chief Mike Gagnon, who oversaw the attempt to save Lacharite, the dog and the home, said it was a challenging fire to fight, not only because of the cold but the snow.
“The snow around the building was at least 2 feet high, and the firefighters had to trudge through it,” he said.
“Every move they made was through snow it was very labor-intensive,” Gagnon added. “Walking on grass is one thing, walking on snow is another.”
Gagnon said with Derry firefighters called in from their days off and mutual aid, “We had sufficient manpower. It just took us a little while to get there.”
The cold affected the firefighters, who needed “rehabilitation” more quickly when their breathing apparatus froze, he said. They were brought into the command unit to warm up, and received coffee and other refreshments from the Salvation Army.
The extreme cold also affects equipment, Gagnon said, explaining, “The fire apparatus freezes up if there’s no water circulating.” The crew had to keep a constant flow going, but never lost their water supply, he said.
New Hampshire lost 11 lives to fire and carbon monoxide poisoning so far this year, Degnan said, and all of the deaths were preventable.
For more information, call the state Fire Marshal’s office at 223-4289.