Cornish Home Destroyed in Fire
Woman, Child Escape Unharmed
While neighbors walk by, Cornish firefighters spray the rafters of Laura Zell's Center Road home with water from a truck in Cornish, N.H., on March 17, 2014. The space above Zell's garage was saved. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
While being comforted by her friend Dale Lawrence, of Cornish, homeowner Laura Zell, center, watches firefighters work on putting out the remnants of a blaze at her Center Road home in Cornish, N.H., on March 17, 2014. Zell was at work when the fire was discovered. Lawrence is also on the Cornish Rescue Squad. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »
Cornish — Fire officials said working smoke detectors helped a woman and child escape a burning Cornish home unharmed on Monday.
Cornish Fire Chief Scott Reuthe said a woman inside the Center Road home heard smoke detectors sounding around 12:30 p.m. and ushered a two-year-old child and a golden retriever to safety.
“That is what we like to see — those smoke detectors working,” Reuthe said outside the charred house on Monday.
The homeowner, Laura Zell, was not home at the time the fire started, but arrived on scene shortly after crews responded.
While standing in the driveway of a neighbor’s house, Zell said her sister — who is visiting from Colorado — and her great granddaughter were inside the home at the time of the fire.
“My sister came to visit for six weeks. She was helping me clean the house and we were getting ready for a sale,” Zell said.
A large red and white for-sale sign sat in the snow near the home which is assessed at $135,600.
The cause of the fire was unknown as of Monday evening, Reuthe said.
The fire more than likely started in a front corner of the main portion of the home, though Reuthe said he couldn’t determine which room caught fire. He said the home is uninhabitable, and approximately three-fourths of it was a total loss.
The American Red Cross reached out to provide assistance services, but Zell said she and the occupants would stay with family.
Tanker trucks blocked Center Road from the intersection of Parsonage and Paget roads all the way to Route 120 for several hours. Limited traffic was being let through.
Cornish Fire Lt. Shane Smith said the flames spread rapidly and made fighting the fire with only the first responders impossible.
“The outside corner was just ripping when we arrived,” Smith, a first responder , said. “And then the fire walked itself through the downstairs. We tried to make an interior attack but we pulled out because of the lack of back up.
“It started to get bad, quick.”
Once crews from several surrounding towns arrived and knocked down the flames, thick white smoke billowed out of smashed windows and a crippled roof for much of Monday afternoon.
A portion of the yellow siding on the two-story home was melted off.
Firefighters continued to spray water at full-blast even once the flames were extinguished to try and knock down a wall and put out hot spots.
Smith and another firefighter were seen lugging an old chest containing family photos out of a portion of the home on Monday.
The chest, along with antiques and other items, were located in a room above the garage, which suffered smoke damage, but was largely untouched by fire.
“It is my job to protect property,” Smith said. “I wanted to get whatever valuables I could out. The main house is gone, but stuff in that upper back room is OK.”
Because of the homes rural location, a tanker shuttle was ready to act if need be, but a nearby brook acted as the primary water source.
Zell loaded a large tote filled with belongings into the back seat of a large pickup truck in the neighbor’s yard on Monday afternoon. Inside, was the golden retriever.
“Let’s go have some treats,” another woman said softly.
The dog complied.
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.