In Canaan, Day of Fires and Ice: Multiple Calls, Frigid Weather Stress Fire Department
Canaan Firefighter Mark Wilson does one last check of a barn fire on Bear Pond Road in Canaan yesterday morning — nine cows died in the blaze, one of three the department responded to. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
At the Canaan Fire Department Dawn Maddaline, of Lebanon, talks with her grandson Jamon Hall, 8, of Canaan. Jamon and his family escaped an early morning house fire yesterday. One of the family’s dogs did not escape the fire, but Samson, pictured, did. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Canaan Firefighters Chris Thurston and Phil Neily use hairdryers to dry their masks yesterday. Because of the frigid conditions the masks were icing up they needed to be cleaned and dried, each mask fits to a specific firefighter. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield Fire Fighter Chris Killmer helps to load a portable water tank at the scene of a house fire on Engle Heart Road in Canaan on Thursday morning. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
While waiting for frozen hoses to thaw out, Canaan Firefighter Bucky Smith helps to put equipment back together at the station after two fires that morning. Smith has been on the department for 60 years in August. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Canaan — Dan Hall rose before 5 a.m. yesterday and stepped into the minus 15 degree darkness to unfreeze the pipes so his wife would be able to take a shower when she woke up.
As he knelt low to the frozen earth, and activated a portable heater near the pipes, a flame unexpectedly leapt from the device, straight into the underbelly of the Englehardt Lane home that Hall spent eight years renovating.
In short order the insulation began to smolder, followed by fire bursting out of a bathroom wall, and though Hall was able to get his wife, two young children and one dog out safely, the family’s 12-year-old Rotweiler did not escape the blaze.
As the Halls rushed from their home, a short distance away another Canaan structure was in flames yesterday morning.
Firefighters at that moment were at the scene of an electrical fire that destroyed a barn six miles away on Bear Pond Road. Nine cows trapped inside were killed in that blaze.
“We put so much work into it and it’s just … all of a sudden your house is ablaze,” Hall said, standing inside the Canaan fire station later where his family had been taken to recover. “ ‘Oh my God, your house is on fire.’ It’s crazy. I can’t believe my house burned down.”
The simultaneous blazes, and the difficulty obtaining water in the bitter cold, forced Canaan to summon dozens of firefighters from surrounding communities.
Both fires appeared to have started accidentally, and both were connected to failed attempts to deal with this week’s brutal cold.
An electric heater designed to keep a tub of drinking water for the cows from freezing was apparently to blame for the barn fire, the Fire Department said.
Canaan Fire Chief Bill Bellion said both incidents should serve as reminders to use extreme caution in trying to generate heat in bitter cold.
The first call came shortly before 4:45 a.m. reporting a structure fire at 88 Bear Pond Road, a property owned by Steven Albrecht, according to public listings.
Deputy Canaan Fire Chief John Hennessy, who was left in charge of the scene when Bellion and others scrambled to the second fire on Englehardt Lane, said the damage was so extensive that firefighters may never be able to confirm their suspicion that the fire started with a malfunctioning water heater. The barn, full of hay, was quickly engulfed. The owner’s nearby home was not disturbed, and they called the fire department, but there was little that could be done, officials said.
“By the time they discovered it, it was pretty involved,” Hennessy said. “It went quick.”
The property owners declined to comment at the scene yesterday.
Around 6 a.m., a 911 call came from Hall’s neighbor’s home.
Lebanon had offered some equipment to help with the barn fire but Canaan told them it was unnecessary. But when the second call came, Canaan firefighters called them back — they needed all the help they could muster.
Tankers and engines from the Lebanon, Enfield, Grafton and Hanover fire departments were called to town — firefighters from Springfield, N.H., covered the vacated Enfield station. Danbury performed the same service in Grafton.
“You just keep calling more and more resources, and dividing them up,” Bellion said.
They were needed, in part, because firefighters knew they were going to have a tough time finding water from outdoor sources. A team was eventually able to draw water from Little Goose Pond, about a mile away from the barn fire, but at Englehardt Lane, the teams relied solely on the water their tankers could transport.
Adding to the pressure yesterday, the Canaan fire department also had to respond to a pickup truck fire.
After accidentally igniting the blaze with his propane, Hall said that a “comedy of errors” omade things worse. He ran inside, filled a couple buckets with water and tried to douse the spreading fire, to no avail. He tried ripping the smoldering insulation out, but it was too hot. He grabbed a fire extinguisher, he said, but it didn’t work.
When a wall by the shower burst into flames, Hall knew there was only thing left to do — get out.
His wife, Caitlin, son Jamon, 8, and daughter Lilliana, 3, piled into Caitlin’s running car, but her phone was not working, so he decided to dash back into the house and grab his cell phone. Caitlin took the keys from the ignition and he ran inside. But when he returned, the car, parked only a couple feet from the burning home, would not restart.
He frantically tried to get Lilliana out of her car seat, as the fire grew behind them.
“As I’m trying to get my daughter out of the car seat, there are windows exploding,” Hall recounted. After receiving help from neighbors, they were transported to the Canaan fire house.
Two-year-old Samson, a Rottweiler/Terrier mix, got out of the house, but the family’s older dog, a rottweiler named Daubach in honor of former Boston Red Sox Brian Daubach, could not be coaxed out of the house in time, Hall said.
The Halls were taken to the Canaan Fire Station, where they met with Red Cross workers who gave them money and set about finding them a temporary residence.
Though relieved to be safe, Hall’s thoughts lingered on the single-story home that his family spent countless hours improving.
Yesterday, the hard work served only to doom their home. There were multiple layers of wood and sheetrock in places that had been heavily renovated, Bellion said, giving the fire plenty of places to spread and making it difficult for firefighters to access all the hotspots.
Hall, for his part, said he hopes to rebuild. The family owns five acres, and Hall has long thought a flat, sandy area on his property would be an ideal place to build a new home for his family.
Valley News photographer Jennifer Hauck contributed to this report. Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (603) 727-3304.