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Man escapes Manchester van fire with his hair burning; blaze extends to city-owned building

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 01. 2017 8:14PM
Manchester fire officials quickly responded to a van fire on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. The van was fully engulfed in fire with flames licking against the adjacent building, the site of the former Genest's Bakery, at 630 Harvard St. (Jeff Hastings)

MANCHESTER — A van fire in Manchester’s South End Friday night hospitalized one man and spread to a city-owned building that is targeted for redevelopment by city officials.

Neighbors reported hearing an explosion shortly after 6 p.m. at the corner of Prescott and Hall Streets.

Manchester fire officials quickly responded and saw the van fully engulfed in fire with flames licking against an adjacent building.

A male occupant of the car escaped with his hair on fire. AMR Ambulance officials cared for him at the scene and transported him to a local hospital for further treatment, officials said.

“It looks like it was accidental. There was one homeless man in the van who was heating it with propane candles and whatever he had in there just ignited,” said Manchester Fire Department District Chief Hank Martineau told reporters.

The medical condition of the unidentified fire victim was not known, Martineau added.

First responders became concerned when some residents reported their belief that up to three people were “squatting” in the van.

Fortunately, an extensive search of the van turned up a lot of burned articles of clothing and other goods but no other injured people.

Manchester fire officials said a van fire on Dec. 1, 2017, set off a smaller blaze at the site of the former Genest's Bakery. (Jeff Hastings)

Meanwhile, Manchester fire officials reported that by 6:17 p.m. the van fire had sparked off a smaller blaze because it was parked right next to 630 Harvard St., the site of the former Genest’s Bakery.

Manchester tax officials had recently requested proposals to take over this largely vacant building the city took last May for unpaid taxes totaling nearly $804,000.

The Genest’s Bakery building has been considered neighborhood blight by South End residents for years. A recent inspection by city officials found an inoperable sprinkler system, standing water or mud in the basement, and rooms full of junk.

According to the request for proposals (RFP), the lot is approximately 54,000 square feet, with approximately 230 feet of frontage on Harvard Street, 280 feet of frontage on Hall Street, and 170 feet on Prescott Street.

The site is occupied by Custom Architectural Design Management LLC, which uses approximately 11,984 square feet of the gross building area, which totals 60,253 square feet, according to city officials.

The fire damage was limited to the unoccupied part of the building, Martineau said.

Manchester fire officials said the building fire was fully contained by 6:34 p.m. but crews stayed at the scene for a while to prevent any hot spots.

Proposals to redevelop this building were due back to city officials Dec. 27.

Constructed in 1933, the building was once home to a book binder, a metal shop, a metal sculptor and a taxidermy shop.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Paul Feely contributed to this report.

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