Union Street Fire Sends Occupants into Sub-Zero Weather

While the origin of an apartment fire on Union Street has not been confirmed, the Derry Fire Department this week took the opportunity to warn residents – again – about the use and misuse of space heaters.

In a press release about the fire at 4 Union St., which displaced a family and rendered an apartment unusable, Derry Fire Battalion Chief Jack Webb said, “Everyone is reminded of the importance to not overload electrical circuits and extension cords. With this cold weather it is often tempting to run multiple electric space heaters or other appliances off of a single extension cord. This can overload the extension cord, the electrical circuit and lead to a fire.”

Crews were dispatched Wednesday, Jan. 7, about 11 p.m. to 4 Union St., a New Englander-style frame building dating from the 1890s and remodeled into three apartments. Two were occupied, one on the first floor and one on the second. The 9-1-1 service was called when residents of the second-floor apartment noticed smoke above their kitchen cabinets and smelled smoke.

The initial dispatch included Engines 1, 2 and 3, Medic 1, Truck 4 and Car 1. Upon arrival, Webb wrote, crews found moderate smoke in the second-floor apartment stemming from a fire in the attic. The initial dispatch was 11:02 p.m., with Derry Engine 1 on scene at 11:08 p.m. and the fire under control at 11:20 p.m.

According to Webb, crews were able to extinguish the attic fire by pulling down the ceiling of the second-floor apartment.

Occupants of both apartments had no vehicles and were poorly dressed for the minus 5 degree weather, so they and their pets were sheltered by Derry Medic 1 and later by a Medic unit from Windham.

One resident slipped and fell and one Derry firefighter had a fall resulting in a minor injury, but he was treated at the scene and returned to duty.

In addition to Windham, mutual aid was provided by Londonderry, Hampstead and Salem.

Tenants were able to return to the first-floor apartment. The power was shut off to the second-floor apartment and the unit was pronounced unsafe to occupy. Four adults, two children and several pets were displaced. They are being assisted by the American Red Cross and family members.

Battalion Chief Michael Gagnon said Friday that he had not received an update on the family.

The building is owned by Eagle Realty and is assessed at $177,600. Damage was limited to the second-floor kitchen and bathroom and to the attic, and is estimated at $15,000.

The fire is of non-suspicious origin, Webb said, and is still under investigation.

Fire Inspector Phil Lavalley said in regard to space heaters, “If you use one, the first rule is to follow the manufacturer’s specifications.” Space heaters are meant to be plugged directly into an outlet and not an extension cord, Lavalley said.

In addition, they must not be placed too near combustible materials, he said. This could include upholstered chairs or couches, wooden furniture, or just about anything. “They need space around them,” Lavalley said.

Those investing in a space heater should look for a model with an anti-tip shutoff, he advised. That way, if the heater tips over, it won’t ignite anything nearby.

While the Derry Fire Department doesn’t endorse a particular brand or manufacturer, Lavalley said, they advise buyers to only purchase a heater that is UL (Underwriters Laboratories Inc.) listed and labeled.

“Every year,” Lavalley said, “we investigate several of these, usually because people don’t follow the instructions.”