Detour, lack of water slows NH firefighters

By Carol Robidoux
The Union Leader

DERRY, N.H. — A detour and lack of water added an element of difficulty when it came to fighting a fire yesterday at a home on Island Pond Road.

"Construction certainly had an impact on our response," said Derry Fire Chief George Klauber, who was on the scene of the fire at 368 Island Pond Road for several hours.

Homeowner Frank Tomczykowski called in the fire just before 3 p.m. He was home when he smelled smoke, said Klauber.

"He has a wood stove in there. While it's still under investigation, we have reason to believe at this point that the fire was related to the stove," Klauber said.

The fire destroyed the rec room where the wood stove was located, melting a ceiling fan and charring support beams, which firefighters removed from the home using chain saws. Klauber said the home was well-insulated, which allowed the fire to smolder inside the attic until it broke through the roof.

By the time firefighters arrived, heavy fire was shooting from the roof of the split-level home. A crew from Salem was first on the scene, partly by design, Klauber said. The home is located close to the Salem town line, just south of a stretch of Island Pond that has been closed for construction by the state Department of Transportation since Nov. 16.

Klauber said fire departments from surrounding towns were included in pre-planning for just such an event, given the road closure between Drew and North Shore roads.

"We had given each fire company directions on how to get here should there be a fire, and that came in handy here today," Klauber said. "We've had a few medical calls, but this is the first major emergency."

Vicky Winam, who lives across the street, saw flames shooting from the house and snapped a few photos with her cell phone.

"We heard the sirens and came outside, and that's when we saw the fire," said Winam. "I was a little confused as to why all the firefighters were standing around rather than spraying the house with water.

"I guess they were waiting for trucks, but we have water pipes right here," she said, pointing to a private cistern next to her property.

Klauber said that because the area has no hydrants, firefighters relied on tankers to supply water to fight the fire in addition to the cistern, which is there to supply water for a private subdivision.

"If this had happened during the storm we had over the weekend, things would have been much worse. Getting here was enough of a challenge without a lot of ice and snow to deal with," Klauber said.

Winam said the fire coincided with the time her son usually arrives home on a bus from East Derry Memorial Elementary School.

"The bus couldn't get down the street, so they sent the kids back to the school, and we had to pick him up there. Luckily, my husband's car wasn't blocked in, so he was able to go get him," Winam said.

Construction began on Island Pond Road eight weeks ago, according to NHDOT. It was supposed to be a six-week project to replace a culvert carrying Taylor Brook under Island Pond Road. However, a recent project update pushed back the date of completion to Feb. 1.

Klauber said Tomczykowski would be temporarily displaced and was receiving help from the Red Cross to find a place to sleep. He said firefighters worked successfully to keep the fire from spreading to the larger part of the home and managed to contain the damage to the rec room.

"We'll keep some personnel here for several hours," Klauber said. "We're still concerned about hot spots. We saved the body of the house, and so we'd hate to have it burn down due to one hot ember."

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