Second flare-up destroys Victorian home in Danvers

A three-alarm fire broke out on Alden Street early yesterday morning.

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(view as multiple pages)By Jamie Jamieson
Staff writer

DANVERS A stubborn fire in a stately Victorian home off Danvers Square surprised firefighters yesterday morning, flaring up again after they thought it had been extinguished the night before.

The fire broke out about 9:30 p.m. Monday, and fire crews worked at it for several hours before leaving the scene between 2:30 and 3 a.m., believing the fire was out.

But a detail officer who checked the building at 6 a.m. yesterday noticed smoke coming from the rafters, Deputy Chief Kevin Farrell said.

Soon after, it was burning with a vengeance.

"Once we started attacking it, it just blew up," fire Chief James Tutko said. "Everything was concealed."

There were no serious injuries, but firefighter Mark Hannon had a close call at the top of the stairs to the third story.

"He was trying to enter a room, and it flashed over," Lt. Richard "Ace" Chase said. The intense heat melted the eye shield on Hannon's fire helmet.

After that, firefighters were ordered out of the home and fought the flames from outside. The fire traveled from one corner of the roof to the other.

Meanwhile, flames and heat pushed a large black cloud of smoke above the home, at 19 Alden St., making the fire easily visible to anyone traveling near Danvers Square yesterday morning.

Farrell said fires in older, wood-framed homes can be difficult to control. "Fire gets in the voids and you just chase it after that," he said.

Firefighters attacked with axes, crowbars and chainsaws, then doused the flames as they flared up. But just as the fire subsided in one place, it sprang up again in another.

"This is one of the toughest fires we've had in a while," Chase said.

The home is one of many beautiful Victorians in the Back Bay area, a neighborhood between Danvers Square and Plains Park dotted with well-kept older homes with porches and generous lots. A plaque on the front identifies it as the home of "Joseph Hood, express agent, 1891."

Alden Street, just two blocks long, runs from Conant Street to Hunt Street, just around the corner from the Danvers post office.

Melissa Christie Potorski stood on the porch across the street yesterday with a hand-knit afghan around her shoulders, watching her home burn. Friends and neighbors comforted her as she fought back tears.

"I loved that home. Everybody loved it," she said.

She and her 5-year-old son, Evan, were roused the night before by the barking of her roommate's Yorkshire terrier. The roommate, Erin Finnegan, was not home when the fire broke out.

Potorski and her son stayed at a friend's home in Georgetown Monday night. She has insurance but isn't sure what she will do next. She wasn't able to salvage any clothing from the house the night before, she said.

"Evan doesn't have any shoes," she told one friend, who had brought her a plastic bag filled with clothes she could wear.

Farrell said damage to the house was extensive.

"I would pretty much call it a total loss," he said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.