A fire at 391 Main St. Tuesday morning is believed to have been set deliberately by the tenant of the apartment. No other apartments were damaged, though the business below got wet. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)
Neighbors say tenant set fire to city building, police wait to charge man
By THOMAS P. CALDWELL, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Police have determined that yesterday morning’s apartment fire at 391 Main St. was intentionally set but said they cannot make an arrest until their suspect is medically cleared. Police had transported a tenant of the apartment complex from the scene to the hospital for an evaluation while firefighters were tackling the fire.
Neighbors said it was a second-floor tenant who moved in two weeks ago who started the blaze, which the Laconia Fire Department quickly contained.
Fire Chief Ken Erickson said firefighters responded within minutes of the 8:50 a.m. call, and the crew was in and out in less than an hour. A hydrant just across the street gave easy access to water, but very little was required to bring the fire under control.
Erickson, who was the first firefighter to arrive, noted that, although Belmont and Gilford also were dispatched to the fire, both departments were out handling other calls, and the Weirs crew was out for service training.
He said that, although no fire was visible when he arrived, plastic blinds in the windows were melting.
All tenants were out of the building when he arrived, and one of them told Erickson that his apartment was on fire.
Landlord David Gilbert said the tenant had moved into the four-room apartment just two weeks ago and described him as having behavioral problems. He said two small fires had been set under the windows in two of the rooms, damaging the baseboard and mini-blinds.
When other firefighters arrived, they stretched a hose up to the apartment and raised a ground ladder to vent a window. A crew from Belmont arrived to assist with a search of the building.
Smoke and water damage was minimal, and Gilbert said the apartment would likely be repaired within a week or two. Erickson estimated damage at $20,000, saying the response resulted in a $150,000 save.
Danny Keene, another tenant of the building, had called the fire in after seeing flames in the window, and he went around knocking on doors to alert the other residents and get them out of the building.
He said the new tenant, whose name he did not know, was insisting that they needed to call the police, instead of the fire department.
Gilbert said the tenant apparently tried to put the fire out by turning on the faucets in the apartment. When firefighters arrived, water was pouring out of the ceiling on the first floor, where accountant Rose Archambault has a business office. Firefighters covered the computers and office furniture with tarps to protect them, Gilbert said.
Gary DeNauw, who works for Gilbert, said they opened all the doors to give firefighters access to the building, which enabled them to keep damage to a minimum.
Dang and Asia Tammavong, who reside in a rear apartment on the second floor, said they were surprised when they returned from their morning workout at Planet Fitness to see South Main Street blocked off by police and several fire trucks in the street in front of the apartment building.
"Firefighters told us the fire started upstairs. We were worried, but we saw our landlord, David Gilbert, while we were waiting outside, and he told us our apartment wasn't damaged."
Dang said he could hear noise from the other upstairs apartment throughout much of the night. "He must have stayed up all night," he said.
Gilbert praised the fire department for its quick response and the care firefighters took to minimize the damage. All of the other units were undamaged, so the tenants could return immediately, he said.
He said the parents of the tenant in the damaged apartment had been very helpful. He declined to identify the tenant because of the ongoing investigation.
Gilbert Realty Trust has owned the building for about 20 years. Built in 1880, the building formerly housed Paul’s Barbershop for many years.
This was the second fire recently for Gilbert, who also owned the 150-year-old apartment building on Orange Court where a woman who was smoking while using medical oxygen set the building on fire, causing extensive damage, on May 31.
“When I heard this building was on fire, I thought it was a prank,” said DeNauw. “I got here and found out it wasn’t.”
"This was not a random crime and the public should not have any ongoing concerns," police stated in a press release. "Anyone with any information regarding this incident should call Detective Sergeant Kevin Butler at the Laconia Police Department at 603-524-5252."
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