Arson at apartment

06 20 southmainfire 2

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

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."

Get your pumpkins planted

Free plants for gardeners to raise for Pumpkin Fest


LACONIA — The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival might be several months away, but plans are well under way for the event, which will be held in Laconia for the third time this fall. Residents hoping to grow pumpkins in their own garden patch are urged to plant their pumpkins now so they will have ripe fruit ready to carve and bring downtown for the festival on Oct. 13 and 14.
In fact, a few local businesses have lent a hand to give people a jump-start in their pursuit of a pumpkin patch of plenty. Earlier this year, the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, with sponsorship from Kennell Orthodontics and Children’s Dentistry, distributed free seed packets to people who wanted to try growing their own pumpkins. While many packets found their way into the hands of the green-thumbed crowd, Karmen Gifford, executive director of the chamber, still had about a thousand seeds left. So, Beans and Greens Farm in Gilford and Moulton Farm in Meredith both agreed to take those seeds, plant them in starter pots in their greenhouses, and nurture them until they were ready to be transplanted into a garden.
Both Beans and Greens and Moulton Farm report that the time has come – the seeds have sprouted and are ready to be taken home. Each farm is offering the plants at no charge for people interested in growing fruit for the Pumpkin Festival. Because the supply is limited, the farms are asking that each person takes no more than two pots each.
Though they’re not typically included in the list of plants that gardeners grow each year, Andy Howe, at Beans and Greens, and John Moulton of Moulton Farm agree that pumpkins can be a rewarding and relatively easy crop to be added to the backyard garden. They offered a few tips for people interested in trying their hand at pumpkin farming.
“Pumpkins like well-fertilized soil,” said Howe. For fertilizers, he said, “We prefer organic matter – anything from cow manure to compost – which releases its nutrients slowly. Pumpkin plants are ferocious eaters, and they like to be fed all the time.” Compost releases its nutrients as it decomposes in the soil, Howe said, so it provides a constant source of plant food throughout the season.
“They should be planted in a good, sunny location,” Moulton said. “They take up a lot of room, so they should be given a lot of room.”
For optimal production, plant the pumpkins with 5 to 6 feet of room to grow in any direction. Keep the pumpkin patch weeded when the seedling is small, but soon the plant will be able to hold its own. The vines will fan out across the ground, and soon will cover the ground with leaves and flowers. Once the flowers are pollinated, they will begin to form into pumpkins.
“They need a long time to grow – they take all summer and into the fall to ripen,” said Moulton.
Both farmers said that as long as the plants are given good soil and full sun, and space to grow, they’re pretty easy plants to grow. Pumpkins like a daily soaking, but they are also drought-tolerant. One thing to watch out for, though, is marauding wildlife – especially deer.
“Deer love pumpkins,” said Howe. His farm was beset with a herd of hungry deer several years ago, until he finally found the solution: Milorganite, an organic fertilizer composed of dried microbes used in the treatment of wastewater. The fertilizer, available at local hardware stores, is full of nitrogen, and stinks to high heaven. Howe found that placing a few scoops of the stuff around his pumpkins, and refreshing the scoops after a heavy rain, kept the deer away all season, while also enriching the soil.
“We use that on a regular basis,” he said.
The push for pumpkins is at the heart of the Pumpkin Festival, which each year sets out with the goal to surpass the world record of most lit Jack-o’-lanterns in the same place at the same time. The current record is 30,581, set in 2013 when the event was hosted by the city of Keene. Gifford said the chamber would be happy to hit the 20,000 mark this year, which would be a new mark since the event moved to Laconia in 2015.
“I think that’s possible,” she said. “I’d love to see us beat the record, but I think we have to be realistic,” she said. The chamber plans to develop a pledge counter for its website to keep track of everyone who says they will bring a pumpkin to the festival. Many local businesses and schools have joined the effort, as well as lots and lots of individual residents. The chamber also is accepting sponsorships from companies, and has added a function to its website so that individuals who want to contribute to the event may do so as “Pumpkin Fest Patrons,” donating whatever amount they choose.
“We want everyone to be part of the festival,” she said. “It’s a community event, it’s not just the chamber’s event. We’re just the organizer,” she said. That’s why she’s hoping that people will visit Beans and Greens, or Moulton Farm, take home a pumpkin plant or two, and bring the fruit to the festival.
“People need to plant them and get them to the festival, get engaged,” Gifford said.


06 16 Pumpkins John Moulton

John Moulton, of Moulton Farm in Meredith, says that the several hundred pumpkin plants his farm has grown for the NH Pumpkin Festival are "the perfect size for planting". The plants, limit of two per person, can be had for no charge. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

06 16 Pumpkins Louria Meyu

Louria Meyu tends to pumpkin plants at Beans and Greens Farm in Gilford. The plants are free for anyone interested in raising pumpkins for the NH Pumpkin Festival in October. (Courtesy photo)

Progress made in negotiations over new ambulance contract


LACONIA — Representatives from the city and LRGHealthcare have made progress in negotiations on a new contract for ambulance service, Fire Chief Ken Erickson told the City Council Monday night.

“We have been working on that diligently, daily,” Erickson said. “We have I think a very solid plan in place.”
He said it was premature to share details.

LRGHealthcare, which operates Lakes Region General Hospital, has been losing about $200,000 a year under an agreement calling for it to cover capital costs and some labor expenses for the fire department's ambulance service.

City Manager Scott Myers said he hoped to have more information in time for next Monday's City Council meeting, but added he's confident the cost of a new arrangement with the hospital can be handled within the Fire Department's new budget.

LRGH President and CEO Kevin Donovan has said the health care organization can't afford to continue losing money on ambulance services.

Options to make up for that loss included an increase in user fees or a decrease in services.

Under the present contract, LRGH provides the ambulances and covers about half of the labor costs associated with the ambulance service, Myers said. LRGHealthcare is painted on the side of the ambulances.

The agreement between the hospital and the city dates from 1997 and gets renegotiated periodically.
The current agreement ends on June 30.

The Fire Department is requesting a $4.47 million budget for the new fiscal year starting July 1. Its current budget totals $4.25 million.

Erickson noted in his presentation that the department's call volume has been increasing. Last year, it handled 4,622 emergency calls, compared to 3,300 in 2010 and 2,691 in 2002.

The City Council has been taking budget presentation from various departments over the last few weeks as a prelude to voting on a new, overall budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.