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Firefighters battle two-alarm blaze at Portsmouth police station

Union Leader Correspondent

July 30. 2013 11:32PM
A two-alarm fire broke out in the basement of the Portsmouth Police Station on Tuesday night, causing significant smoke damage, but no injuries. (Gretyl Macalaster Photo)

PORTSMOUTH — A two-alarm fire at the Portsmouth Police Station caused significant smoke damage, but no injuries on Tuesday night.

The fire broke out around 7:45 p.m. in a shooting range in the basement of the station, Portsmouth Fire Chief Steve Achilles said.

The building's sprinkler system activated, quenching the fire, which started in a large pile of rubber backing used as a cachement area for practice rounds. The blaze sent acrid, thick smoke throughout the station.

Portsmouth Police Capt. Frank Warchol said no one was shooting in the basement range at the time of the fire. Only about five employees were in the building, including dispatch operators and the on-duty shift commander.

Achilles said the cause of the fire is still unknown.

The police station is housed in the same building as City Hall. Achilles said he fully expects City Hall to open on schedule Wednesday morning, but it is unclear when operations will resume at the police station.

Achilles said the building was tested for toxic gases, which were detected in the basement area. He compared the burning of the rubber backing and the smoke it created to a pile of rubber tires burning. The building was to be ventilated throughout the night.

Dispatch operations have been moved to a communications center at the Department of Public Works Building on Peverly Hill Road until further notice.

Achilles said the entire basement sustained significant smoke damage. The basement houses the men's and women's locker rooms and a gym in addition to the shooting range.

Crews from Portsmouth, Newington, Kittery and Greenland battled the two-alarm fire for more than two hours before it was declared under control around 10 p.m.

By 10:30 p.m., Achilles had started to send crews home, although he said one or two engine companies would be on scene throughout the night.

The shooting range has been housed in the basement of the station for more than 20 years. Achilles said this is the first time the fire department has responded to an issue there.

Warchol said the fire resulted in a brief interruption in local dispatch operations, which are routed through the state 911 system. Achilles said they were not aware of any missed calls for responders.

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