Firefighters found the bodies of two people inside a Mooresville Road home Monday afternoon, a discovery that transformed the fire scene into a high-level investigation involving state fire officials and Manchester police.
Hours after the fire was extinguished, Fire Chief James Burkush said he couldn't confirm the identity of the two victims, who were found in the right lower portion of 210 Mooresville Road.
"We've lost two people," Burkush said.
The raised ranch is the longtime home of retired couple Bob and Connie Dion, according to neighbors and city records.
Bob Dion is the retired postmaster in Salem, his nephew, Manchester resident Mike Mitchell, said. He collects stamps and coins, and the collection is worth a substantial sum, Mitchell said.
Family members fear the worst.
"It sounds like they're the ones (in the house)," said Mitchell, who talked with fire officials on and off at the scene.
The discovery was made after firefighters had all but extinguished the flames. With reports of an explosion, and a visible shift in a portion of the front exterior wall, firefighters had worked to brace the structure before entering it, Burkush said.
District Fire Chief Michael Gamache said an explosion, the result of a flashover or smoke explosion, knocked the building a foot off the foundation and blew off both the front and rear doors. He explained that a flashover occurs when a fire reaches a temperature of between 500 and 600 degrees, blowing out windows.
"It was a violent explosion that knocked the house off its foundation," Gamache said.
Once the bodies were found, yellow police tape went up, and the state Fire Marshal's Office, which investigates fire deaths in New Hampshire, and Manchester police joined the investigation.
Meanwhile, the adult son of the Dions, who apparently lives in the house, and a car owned by the Dions had not been located hours after the fire was reported, according to two of his relatives, Mike Mitchell and Michael Focosi.
Family members said the Dions were "enjoying life" in retirement and would often travel to locations in New England and Canada. The couple would sometimes travel with friends and leave their vehicles at home. They had lived in the home for more than 40 years.
Matt Dion, who is in his 30s, lived with his parents, as did Michael Focosi, a 17-year-old whose mother is engaged to Dion and who said he considers Dion his father.
Michael Focosi said he received a text from Matt Dion at 2:42 p.m. that said he was running late for work.
Several hours after the fire, Focosi said he still had not heard from Dion. Family members said Dion suffered a serious injury several years ago and went through an extended period of unemployment during which he moved in with his parents.
Focosi said no one was supposed to be in the house. He said that Matt Dion works for Comcast, and his grandparents were believed to be on vacation in Lincoln, he said.
"I've called everybody, but nobody's answered," said Focosi.
As darkness fell, deputy State Fire Marshal Robert Farley said the victims had yet to be moved. He said any identification would have to come from the state Medical Examiner who remained inside the building late Monday night.
Burkush and Farley said no cause had been determined for the fire, and they had not determined whether an accelerant was used or if the house had been broken into. Gamache said officials don't know how long the fire burned before it was reported. Damage to the home was estimated at $175,000.
In addition to Bob Dion's extensive stamp collection, Connie Dion was known to have a large jewelry collection, family members said.
Focosi's mother, Pam Focosi, was on the scene last night. Investigators were interviewing both her and her son.
Mooresville Road is in south Manchester. The short, residential street is home to tidy ranches and colonials from the second half of the 1900s, as well as a small church. It is a connector street between South Mammoth and Huse roads, parallel to the nearby Interstate 293.
The fire was called in at 2:37 p.m. by passersby.
Bodwell Road resident Kathy Burtram said she was driving by and saw smoke. She pulled over to call 911, and when she did so, several explosions took place, she said.
"It was awful, I was right here and I couldn't help them," she said. Other neighbors said they saw smoke, but heard no explosions.
Burkush said fire investigators haven't been able to determine if there was an explosion.
City records indicate the house had oil heat. Burkush said there is no natural gas line to the house.
South Mammoth Road resident Jamie Wintle said she was outside with her children and saw smoke, but heard no explosion. She ran up and saw heavy smoke streaming from the house and flames coming from the front door.
"The smoke coming out of it was crazy," she said.
Burkush said 14 inches of water were on the floor where the bodies were found, and that had to be pumped out.
An investigator from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who is assigned to the Fire Marshal's office was also on site, but Burkush said that was not out of the ordinary