Charred walls and a few personal items are about all that remains of a clapboard residence in Tilton, which sits behind the Lochmere Baptist Church. The fire occurred last Friday in the early afternoon hours, and crews from Tilton-Northfield, Sanbornton, Belmont and Franklin were called upon to battle the blaze. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
December 21, 2011TILTON — Tragedy struck the Lochmere District of Tilton last Friday, when a midday fire destroyed a residence at 25 Church St., leaving one woman homeless and a neighborhood shaken by the incident.
The call, first reported by laborers working on the sewer hook-up to a neighboring property, came in around 1 p.m. It was also called in by many people who live nearby, and saw the smoke and flames billowing from the residence, including Tilton Selectman and Lochmere resident Joe Jesseman.
"I was coming around the loop in Lochmere, and saw this conflagration of smoke and flames coming up from the house, and I immediately called 9-1-1 on my cell phone," Jesseman said.
The neighborhood is comprised of mainly older homes, all in close proximity to each other, making the situation all the more dangerous. Since the fire broke out in a home directly behind the Lochmere Baptist Church and another house, there was an imminent danger of it spreading to other buildings as high winds whipped the area.
"The door was already gone when I spotted the fire, and you could see inside the house; see the flames in the living room. Flames were shooting out and sparks were landing in the trees. It was quite frightening," Jesseman said.
The first responder was off-duty Belmont Fire Lt. Bob Laraway, who happened to be in the area and secured the scene as Tilton-Northfield fire fighters raced to the location. They were soon joined by crews from Belmont, Sanbornton and Franklin, and Jesseman reported it was only a matter of about ten minutes before the crews had everything under control.
"It was really impressive for me, as a selectman, to watch them do what they do. It didn't take long at all," he said.
TNFD Chief Brad Ober said the fire had a "good jump" on them because the home was unoccupied at the time it broke out, but firefighters worked to save all they could. While Lochmere is a remote area for water supply from the town, water, Ober said, was not an issue in battling the blaze, and they were able to keep it from spreading to the church and other nearby buildings. The property, owned by Betty Gonyer, who lives in another house in front of the affected residence, was a total loss, but the good news was that the resident, Gonyer's daughter Kathleen, was safe.
"There's a possibility some clothing and things in the back bedroom and storage area might be salvaged from the smoke and heat and water damage, but she wasn't in the building, and she's okay today. That's what really matters," said Ober.
Unfortunately, the home was not insured at the time of the fire.
Jesseman said as he watched the fire tear through the home, he knew Gonyer was going to need assistance, and immediately began to make phone calls. He first called select board Chair Pat Consentino, who in turn contacted Tilton Welfare Director Heather Thibodeau, who then called the Red Cross and got the wheels in motion to do all they could to assist Gonyer. Selectmen then drove to Lochmere to join Jesseman at the scene and see what else they could do to help.
Reports said Gonyer had gone to pick up her father from a local nursing home when the fire broke out. She had left in her car without a coat, so selectmen first worked to find something to keep her warm. A quick call to the Tilton-Northfield-Sanbornton Christmas Fund was initially able to provide her with at least a coat to stay warm.
"These are our neighbors, our friends. Central New Hampshire is really a small community, and we all look out for one another. We see each other on the street, and we know who people are," said Jesseman. "The town's going to do all it can to put this woman back on her feet."
The Red Cross Disaster Action Team provided Gonyer with immediate financial assistance for food, clothing and lodging but long term prospects have yet to be determined. In the meantime, Tilton officials will be doing all they can to help.
"As soon as we find out where she'll be settling, we'll help her to re-establish herself in her new residence," said Consentino.
She said people have been calling Town Hall to offer their help by donating a television, couch, and other household goods.
While Gonyer is still in a transitional period, however, the town will take note of all these offers and relay further information on her needs in the near future.