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A Cautionary Tale: Discarded Ashes Start Fire That Could Have Been Much Worse

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Some unplanned guests visited a Mt Pleasant Road home shortly after midnight January 10, after discarded ashes reportedly caused a fire there.

Volunteers from Newtown’s five fire companies were dispatched to 53 Mt Pleasant Road last Monday morning after a neighbor called reporting what they thought was a fire in the woods. The neighbor’s home is nearly 300 yards away from where the fire was spotted.

The first firefighter on the scene, however, encountered flames showing from the northern corner of the two-story house at that location.

The 3,476 square foot, five-bedroom home was built in 1973. Local records list Rohan and Evija Mehra as joint tenants, although it is unclear whether they occupied the dwelling at the time of the fire.

An engine from Newtown Hook & Ladder and a tanker from Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue went to the house, as did firefighters from those two companies. Hook & Ladder Chief Chris Ward was the officer in command, and Fire Marshal Richard Frampton also responded.

Frampton told The Newtown Bee later that morning that ashes from the home’s fireplace, which had been used on Saturday, were put into a plastic garbage can “sometime Sunday.”

The can was outside the house, according to the fire marshal, “but it was up against the house.”

Firefighters were able to quickly knock down the fire, which Frampton said was contained to the garage area of the home.

“They didn’t use much water,” he said. The fire was out less than 20 minutes after the first firefighter arrived.

The driveway for 53 Mt Pleasant is nearly one-third of a mile from the roadway. Firefighters were fortunate that their response required minimal apparatus and manpower, especially considering the length and narrowness of the winding driveway to the home and frigid temperatures that morning.

The homeowners were also lucky that the fire was seen before it spread further. The fire marshal said there was not much damage to the two-story house.

“Some insulation, some sheetrock, and some of the boards on the outside of the house that were knocked off” during the extinguishment of the fire, Frampton said. Employees from the fire restoration company JP Maguire boarded up the damaged section of the house, Frampton added.

The garbage can was destroyed.

“There wasn’t much left to it,” Frampton said. “One wheel, that was about it.”

There were no injuries to the home’s residents nor any responding firefighters.

After Hook & Ladder and Sandy Hook firefighters responded to the scene, Botsford, Dodgingtown, and Hawleyville volunteers were requested to stand by at their respective stations. Firefighters on scene cleared from the Mt Pleasant Road property in just under an hour.

The residents were not displaced, Frampton said.

Reminders For Discarding Ashes

Following last week's fire, Fire Marshal Rich Frampton urges all Newtown residents to remember the following safety points:

*Ashes may contain hot embers for several days. If cleaning is required, always use a metal ash bucket with a tight sealing lid available at most hardware or home improvement stores.

*The US Fire Administration also suggests putting the metal container at least 10 feet away from any building. It also suggests pouring water on the ashes.

*Always ensure the fireplace damper is fully open before lighting.

*Wait at least 24 hours to close the flue damper after using the fireplace. Smoldering embers may produce carbon monoxide (CO).

*Never use combustible liquids to help start a fire.

*Only burn dry, seasoned hardwoods. Never burn trash or wrapping papers, which may overwhelm the flue causing the fire to spill out of the fireplace.

*Always use fireplace screens to stop flying embers.

*A good spark arrestor cap at the top of the chimney is always a good idea, especially where a wood shingle roof is present. This will also prevent critters from building nests as well.

*Depending on amount and type of use, chimneys should be cleaned and inspected by certified chimney cleaners at least every few years — more often if used extensively or if woodstoves are used. Older chimneys may require a video inspection to check for cracked flue liners and loose mortar.

*If a fireplace has been idle for long periods of time, an inspection may be in order. Some animals will build nests in chimneys which can cause a blockage or catch fire.

*Ensure that smoke and CO detectors are present and properly operating.

This incident came on the heels of two tragic, high-profile residential fires that occurred in Philadelphia and the Bronx, which also prompted advisories from the Newtown Fire Marshal’s Office and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Read more on Page B3.

For questions regarding fireplace safety contact local Fire Marshal’s Office at 203-270-4370.

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Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

Ashes left in a plastic garbage can outside the home at 53 Mt Pleasant Road combusted during the overnight hours of January 9-10. The dwelling was damaged, and the fire marshal subsequently issued reminders concerning the safe disposal of ashes. —Newtown Hook & Ladder photo
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