Temps hinder firefighting

“We could have stopped the fire if it wasn’t so cold.”

Ashfield Fire Chief Delmar Haskins, on Saturday, reflected on a fire Friday afternoon that leveled a log cabin on Briar Hill Road.

Pump trucks and fire hoses froze as the temperatures hovered around zero degrees Friday, hindering firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blaze.

“It’s pretty bad when Mother Nature takes control, despite all of our modern equipment,” Haskins said.

Firefighters used portable “salamander” propane heaters to thaw their equipment and were eventually able to get water up the hill and to the fire. Without such heaters of their own, Ashfield firefighters had to request them from other departments. By the time they were up and running, however, the flames had spread throughout the building. It was a total loss.

Homeowner Ronald DiDonato came out Saturday to survey the damage and refused to answer any questions. Icicles clung to the charred timbers that remained of the log cabin, as well as a nearby arbor, trees, deck furniture and more of the DiDonato family’s belongings outdoors.

DiDonato requested that a TV news crew not film his property.

“I’ve seen too much already,” he told the reporter and cameraman.

Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office, said a woman who was home when the fire broke out was treated for smoke inhalation on-scene.

“She managed to evacuate one of the family’s dogs and call 911,” said Mieth. “There are still two cats and one dog missing.”

Mieth said the fire marshal is still working to determine the cause of the fire.

Red Cross spokeswoman Dawn Leaks said the organization is providing assistance to the couple and their adult son in the form of shelter, clothes and food.

More than 40 firefighters from Franklin and Hampshire county towns responded to the scene on Friday. Several of them were called away to assist at a fire that broke out in the neighboring town of Conway, where, less than four miles away, another fire consumed a double-wide trailer home Friday. Firefighters there were also hampered by the freezing cold.

Conway family loses home

Conway Fire Chief Robert Baker said they had many of the same issues, with hoses and apparatus freezing up as they tried to battle the flames.

The family of eight was away at the time, and nobody was hurt. A litter of seven puppies in the home, however, did not make it.

The home was owned by Ronald Culver. Saturday, his brother Charlie Culver came to look over the wreckage.

“They’re holding up halfway decent,” he said of his brother and family. “It’s tough. They’ve lost everything.”

He said his brother did not have fire insurance on the home, though he did have mortgage insurance.

“The Red Cross is putting them up in a hotel for the weekend, but I don’t know what they’re going to do after that.”

Leaks said the Red Cross is providing the family with food, shelter, clothes, blankets, toiletries and other essentials, as well as comfort items like teddy bears for the younger children.

Culver said the family consists of his brother, his wife, and their six children, ranging in age from 3 years to teenagers.

A camper-trailer and van adjacent to the home were also destroyed in the fire. Culver said his brother’s oldest daughter had been living in the trailer.

The family had been living in the double-wide for at least 15 years, and had just put a new roof on the building last fall, said Culver.

He said his sister-in-law was visiting her mother, when she heard about the fire on a police scanner Friday afternoon, and rushed home to find her house in flames. By then, there was little left to the structure.

“The destruction was so extensive that we’ll probably never officially determine the cause,” said Mieth.

“We do know that they were using a pellet stove and space heater to warm the home,” she added.

Mieth said a number of fires across the state have been caused by heating equipment.

“We hope people will use extreme caution” with space heaters and wood- or pellet-stoves, she said.

“If you’re using a space heater, don’t leave it unattended, and make sure it’s at least 3 feet from anything that could catch fire,” she advised. “We also urge people (who heat with wood or pellets) to use a lidded, metal container when removing ashes. Embers can stay hot for as long as 36 hours.”

She also advised that people keep up with regular maintenance of their stoves, furnaces, flues and chimneys to help prevent fires.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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