New Hampshire Firefighters Battle Four-Alarm Blaze

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Flames tore through three multi-family buildings on Central Street Monday night while approximately 100 firefighters battled to keep the blaze from spreading across the thickly settled block.

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"The firefighters did a phenomenal job. We could have lost the whole block of buildings," said Fire Chief James Burkush, who called the blaze suspicious.

An off-duty firefighter was hurt in the four-plus alarm blaze. Lt. John Couture was driving home with his teenage son when he ran into one of the burning buildings and rescued occupants before fire crews arrived.

Couture, who has been on the force about 25 years, was being treated at Elliot Hospital for smoke inhalation, Burkush said. He was in good condition Monday night, a nursing supervisor said.

"John Couture just epitomizes what we are on-duty and off-duty. We give it 100 percent," the chief said.

A Manchester police officer who helped alert occupants required oxygen at the scene, Burkush said.

The Red Cross was assisting at least 10 people displaced by the blaze. There were no reports of civilian injuries.

The fire started behind 333 Central St. in a 5-foot space that separates it from 335 Central St., which is vacant. Flames quickly engulfed the two buildings before spreading to 335 Central St., a two-story building, Burkush said.

Fire officials first learned of the blaze from a passerby who pounded on the glass windows at the 100 Merrimack St. fire headquarters at 6:16 p.m., Burkush said. Shortly after, the station received about 20 emergency 911 calls.

He noted there was no apparent cause for the fire -- utilities were disconnected to 335 Central St. and no trash was stored between the buildings.

In addition, officials have reports of two juveniles running from the area shortly before the fire started, he said.

"I'm very close to calling it arson. It's suspicious now," the chief said.

All available off-duty firefighters were called in when the third alarm was struck. Every piece of fire-fighting equipment in the city also was called into service, Burkush said. Derry firefighters provided assistance.

It took firefighters about an hour to bring the blaze under control. Dozens were still on scene at 9:45 p.m.

Burkush said 335 Central St. was destroyed and will be condemned. He expected 333 Central St. will suffer a similar fate.

Four people lived on the first floor at 333 Central St. and three on the second floor. The third floor was vacant.

Copyright 2012 - The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester

McClatchy-Tribune News Service