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Claremont Fire Displaces 2

Warming Light for Pet Python Sparks Blaze in Duplex

  • A Claremont firefighter works to clear the second-floor apartment of charred debris after extinguishing a fire at 58 Pearl St. in Claremont.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    A Claremont firefighter works to clear the second-floor apartment of charred debris after extinguishing a fire at 58 Pearl St. in Claremont.
    (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Claremont and Newport fire departments responded to a fire at 58 Pearl St. in Claremont. A warming appliance underneath a first-floor snake terrarium caused the fire, which spread through the walls and floors before consuming much of the home's second floor. Matt McElreavy, 26, was asleep on the second floor when he awoke to smoke at about 3:20 p.m. No one was injured in the fire.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Claremont and Newport fire departments responded to a fire at 58 Pearl St. in Claremont. A warming appliance underneath a first-floor snake terrarium caused the fire, which spread through the walls and floors before consuming much of the home's second floor. Matt McElreavy, 26, was asleep on the second floor when he awoke to smoke at about 3:20 p.m. No one was injured in the fire.
    (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Matt McElreavy, right, was asleep in his second-floor apartment when he awoke to smoke at about 3:20 p.m.  "I wanted to go in there for one more round of stuff," McElreavy said, after retrieving his laptop, cell phone and wallet. "I couldn't breathe up there."<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Matt McElreavy, right, was asleep in his second-floor apartment when he awoke to smoke at about 3:20 p.m. "I wanted to go in there for one more round of stuff," McElreavy said, after retrieving his laptop, cell phone and wallet. "I couldn't breathe up there."
    (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • A Claremont firefighter works to clear the second-floor apartment of charred debris after extinguishing a fire at 58 Pearl St. in Claremont.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Claremont and Newport fire departments responded to a fire at 58 Pearl St. in Claremont. A warming appliance underneath a first-floor snake terrarium caused the fire, which spread through the walls and floors before consuming much of the home's second floor. Matt McElreavy, 26, was asleep on the second floor when he awoke to smoke at about 3:20 p.m. No one was injured in the fire.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Matt McElreavy, right, was asleep in his second-floor apartment when he awoke to smoke at about 3:20 p.m.  "I wanted to go in there for one more round of stuff," McElreavy said, after retrieving his laptop, cell phone and wallet. "I couldn't breathe up there."<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

A downtown apartment building was severely damaged yesterday after a heating apparatus meant to warm the terrarium of a pet python caught fire, which spread through the walls before it was brought under control by firefighters.

Neither of the duplex’s two residents were injured; the python perished in the blaze.

Matt McElreavy, who lived on the second floor, said he discovered the fire when he woke up at 3:30 p.m. to a room full of smoke so thick he could barely see. He grabbed some essentials — laptop, cell phone, wallet — and went down to the street and called 911. He then went back inside to collect his keys and some cash, but was forced to leave by the smoke.

“I wanted to go in there for one more round of stuff,” McElreavy said, wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants on the street outside of the burned building at 58 Pearl St. “I couldn’t breathe up there.”

McElreavy was resting up before his shift as a machine operator at Hypertherm, when the fire started in the first floor apartment of the building’s owner and traveled up through the hollow spaces in the walls, according to officials.

A man who McElreavy identified as his landlord, who was not home at the time the fire began, later showed up at the scene, but declined to give his name to a reporter. According to city records, the building at 58 Pearl St. is co-owned by Shaylor Duranleau and Stephen Bonner, who bought it in November 2008. The building and land are assessed at $118,100.

Claremont Fire Chief Rick Bergeron said the blaze was sparked by a warming device on the python’s terrarium.

“It had all kinds of time to build,” Bergeron said of the blaze.

While McElreavy, 26, was collecting his possessions, the fire was spreading right under his feet, said Bergeron, who called the damage to the house “severe.” After traveling through the floors and walls, the fire eventually burst out of McElreavy’s kitchen cabinets . The flames made it as far as a second-floor outdoor porch, although didn’t scorch any neighboring houses.

“When I was out here, there were flames busting out that window,” McElreavy said, motioning toward what used to be his bedroom.

Not long after the fire broke out, night began to fall. In McElreavy’s bedroom, firefighters set up a light that illuminated the space as they picked apart the ruined ceiling.

Police cordoned off a stretch of Pearl Street for at least two and a half hours last night as Claremont and Newport fire crews continued to clean up the scene.

The duplex’s residents stood on the sidewalk across the street as neighbors came by to offer support. Some took pictures of the bedroom window, the glass of which had long been shattered by firefighters.

Mike Keyes, who lives down the street, was watching a movie when the fire trucks roared past his house. At first, he thought their horns were sound effects.

“I couldn’t believe that it was one of my friend’s houses that caught on fire,” he said, adding that he and McElreavy occasionally play pool together.

He reflected that the fire gave him a good reason to purchase renter’s insurance. McElreavy said he didn’t have any insurance, but could temporarily move in with his parents, who also live in Claremont.

Jeff White, who lives about five or six houses away from the burned duplex, said he was drawn to check out the fire not by the lights of police cars and fire trucks, but by smoke rising from the top of the house.

Long after the hoses had been rolled up last night, some firefighters congregated around the front entrance and others, donning masks, scoured the second floor.

Below them, a terrarium, dripping with water, had been pushed away from a charred hole in the wall. On top of it rested the singed remains of what looked like coiled piping.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.