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West Lebanon Fire Displaces 24

  • Lebanon firefighter Duane Egner steps over a gap in the apartment building entryway that was the source of an electrical fire in West Lebanon yesterday morning. Twenty-four tenants have been displaced. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Lebanon firefighter Duane Egner steps over a gap in the apartment building entryway that was the source of an electrical fire in West Lebanon yesterday morning. Twenty-four tenants have been displaced. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon yesterday afternoon, resident Josh Davis is helped by Red Cross officials Theresa Grigsby, left, and Janet Ducharme. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon yesterday afternoon, resident Josh Davis is helped by Red Cross officials Theresa Grigsby, left, and Janet Ducharme. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tammy Schuller comforts Bella Hutchins outside the apartment building in which they live yesterday in West Lebanon. Schuller was holding Bella while the Lebanon Fire Department allowed her parents to go back into the building to collect a few belongings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Tammy Schuller comforts Bella Hutchins outside the apartment building in which they live yesterday in West Lebanon. Schuller was holding Bella while the Lebanon Fire Department allowed her parents to go back into the building to collect a few belongings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Emily Nykolyn carries her pet fish, Danny, out of her apartment building. Due to the fire, tenants were not able to stay in the building last night and Nykolyn and her boyfriend did not want to leave the fish behind. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Emily Nykolyn carries her pet fish, Danny, out of her apartment building. Due to the fire, tenants were not able to stay in the building last night and Nykolyn and her boyfriend did not want to leave the fish behind. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Snow piles up on apartment resident Ken Stedson while he watches firefighters put out the fire in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Snow piles up on apartment resident Ken Stedson while he watches firefighters put out the fire in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Steve Allen of the Lebanon Fire Department writes down the names of tenants outside the scene of an apartment building fire in West Lebanon. Also shown from left are Courtney Benway, Glenn Hutchins (holding their baby Bella Hutchins) and Scott Schuller. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Steve Allen of the Lebanon Fire Department writes down the names of tenants outside the scene of an apartment building fire in West Lebanon. Also shown from left are Courtney Benway, Glenn Hutchins (holding their baby Bella Hutchins) and Scott Schuller.
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, tenants wait to speak to representatives from the Red Cross after a suspected electrical fire at Valley Garden Apartments. From left are Dov Rubenstein, Emily Nykolyn, Courtney Benway, Tammy Schuller, Scott Schuller, Glenn and Bella Hutchins. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, tenants wait to speak to representatives from the Red Cross after a suspected electrical fire at Valley Garden Apartments. From left are Dov Rubenstein, Emily Nykolyn, Courtney Benway, Tammy Schuller, Scott Schuller, Glenn and Bella Hutchins. (
    Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon firefighter Duane Egner steps over a gap in the apartment building entryway that was the source of an electrical fire in West Lebanon yesterday morning. Twenty-four tenants have been displaced. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon yesterday afternoon, resident Josh Davis is helped by Red Cross officials Theresa Grigsby, left, and Janet Ducharme. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Tammy Schuller comforts Bella Hutchins outside the apartment building in which they live yesterday in West Lebanon. Schuller was holding Bella while the Lebanon Fire Department allowed her parents to go back into the building to collect a few belongings. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Emily Nykolyn carries her pet fish, Danny, out of her apartment building. Due to the fire, tenants were not able to stay in the building last night and Nykolyn and her boyfriend did not want to leave the fish behind. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Snow piles up on apartment resident Ken Stedson while he watches firefighters put out the fire in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Steve Allen of the Lebanon Fire Department writes down the names of tenants outside the scene of an apartment building fire in West Lebanon. Also shown from left are Courtney Benway, Glenn Hutchins (holding their baby Bella Hutchins) and Scott Schuller. <br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • At the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon, tenants wait to speak to representatives from the Red Cross after a suspected electrical fire at Valley Garden Apartments. From left are Dov Rubenstein, Emily Nykolyn, Courtney Benway, Tammy Schuller, Scott Schuller, Glenn and Bella Hutchins. (<br/>Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Glenn Hutchins stepped outside of his basement apartment around 8:30 a.m. for a quick cigarette yesterday, and was greeted by smoke pushing up from the hallway floorboard. He turned around and rushed his fiance and their 11 month-old daughter outside, and then went running through the three-floor building off Seminary Hill Road, alerting his fellow tenants as quickly he could.

“It smelled like a wood stove burning,” Hutchins said. “My first instinct was to run around knocking on doors.”

The fire at the Valley Gardens Apartment complex did not injure anyone, but caused enough damage to displace 24 tenants of the Hill House building for yesterday and today.

While investigators haven’t definitively identified the cause, Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said the fire was likely triggered by electrical problem in an old intercom system housed in the basement of the building, which is owned by Lebanon residents William and Deobrah Babineau, according to city records.

The small fire was contained in the basement, and the building sustained only light smoke and water damage. However, firefighters, concerned that the flames could spread into the walls and move quickly through the house, aggressively ripped apart some of the structure near the stairwell to make sure that did not happen, Christopoulos said.

“We needed to make sure we didn’t have fire above a certain point,” he explained.

City code mandates that apartment buildings like Hill House have two working exits, but the damage to the stairwell left it with only one, Christopoulos said, rendering the building temporarily uninhabitable.

Maintenance crews were already at the building yesterday working on repairs, Christopoulos said, and tenants would likely be allowed to return some time today.

The fire was not suspicious, Christopoulos said, and the building’s alarms worked properly.

A message left at the listed phone number for the Valley Gardens Apartment complex was not returned yesterday.

The displaced tenants mingled outside for an hour yesterday, and then firefighters escorted them back into their apartments, to gather a few belongings. The tenants were then told to go to the nearby the Kilton Library, where they had coffee and doughnuts and met with Red Cross volunteers, who arranged for them to stay in a hotel last night.

Dov Rubenstein was at work at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in White River Junction when he received a phone call from his girlfriend, Emily Nykolyn. He ignored it. She then sent a text message that got his attention.

‘Our apartment is on fire,’ it read. Rubenstein, his attention now focused, jumped in a car and made the quick drive home. The couple grabbed a few possessions, including their beloved beta fish Danny, and headed to the library, where they said they were relieved to learn that the damage was minimal.

“It smells like there’s been a few birthday parties in there, but it’s not damaged,” Rubenstein said, while cradling a copy of The Three Musketeers that he had grabbed from the library’s nearby fiction shelves.

Many of the tenants said they had no idea anything was amiss, until someone — either Hutchins or police who arrived on the scene — began pounding on their door. Nykolyn assumed that someone’s cooking mistake had set off the alarm, until she stepped into a hallway full of smoke.

Seminary Hill Road was closed for an hour while firefighters made the building safe. Hanover and Hartford firefighters also responded to the scene.

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.