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January 03. 2014 9:12PM

Weather hampers fighting of New Ipswich blaze


No one was injured when an early morning fire gutted a New Ipswich home on Friday, but firefighters had to struggle against bitter temperatures and frozen equipment to suppress the blaze. (Nancy Bean Foster)

NEW IPSWICH — No one was injured when a fire tore through a home on Friday morning, but firefighters had a difficult job putting out the blaze due to frigid temperatures.

A New Ipswich Highway Department employee was driving by the single family home at 77 Stowell Road around 5:30 a.m. Friday when he noticed smoke coming from the building, said Fire Chief David Leel.

"He saw it and called it in," said Leel, "and then he stayed to plow the driveway so the firefighters didn't have to walk through the snow."

The owners of the home are currently in North Carolina, but two family members were staying at the house, including a man who was working when the blaze broke out, and a teenager who was sleeping but was woken up by the smoke detectors, Leel said.

"He was able to get out just fine," said Leel, "and they're now staying with family."

But for firefighters, the temperatures which hovered just above zero degrees at 5:30 a.m. caused a number of complications. The all-call fire department had to get to the fire station on slick roads, and once the fire trucks were at the scene things started freezing up, said Leel.

"The weather did not enhance firefighting efforts at all," he said. "When it's two or three degrees out, it hampers everything, and makes our job so difficult."

As the equipment came in contact with water, freezing occurred, and once those problems were solved, the water hitting the ground created dangerous conditions for the firefighters. But just finding water became an issue, the chief said.

"We had trouble getting water at the water hole we use so that slowed down filling the tankers," he said. Then there was difficulty drawing water from the town's dry hydrant so the tanker was sent to Greenville. But that hydrant failed to yield water as well, Leel said. "We never ran out of water, but we came awful close," he said.

The other struggle was keeping the firefighters who rotated out of the front line from freezing, but that effort was supported by Souhegan Valley Ambulance Service which kept a rig on site so that firefighters could come in and get warm before heading back to the fight.

Leel said it took close to two hours to get the fire under control, due largely to the difficult weather conditions.

"If it had been June we would have knocked this down in a half an hour," he said.

Leel said it appears the fire started in the rear right-hand side of the house, and early indications are that the fire was electrical in nature. However, the investigation into the cause of the fire was just starting on Friday afternoon and Leel said there was no way to make a definitive determination until the investigation is complete.

nfoster@newstote.com


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