By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — A small fire in the St. Joseph Church organ created so much smoke, several dozen people had to be evacuated during a funeral.
The fire broke out about 11 a.m. Friday when the motor to the organ's blower malfunctioned, causing smoke to be blown from the church's organ loft into the basement, according to Salem Fire Capt. Timothy Kenney.
But the smoke inside the Main Street church forced the evacuation of at least 50 people, cutting the funeral short, church employee Jeff Sturk said.
"The whole church filled up with smoke," Sturk said, standing outside in the cold as firefighters investigated the fire.
People attending the funeral left the church and went to the cemetery, he said.
Funeral director Robert Carrier of Douglas & Johnson Funeral Home said having to stop a funeral and evacuate the church was probably one of the most unusual things to happen during a service in his 20 years in the business.
Carrier said it was fortunate the funeral was nearly over when the fire broke out, so there was no need to return to the church
Kenney said although the fire was minor, it would take some time to clear the building of smoke.
"Probably the biggest problem will be the smoke smell," he said.
The Rev. Thomas Frink said they heard a strange sound come from the organ and then started to smell smoke. Then, they discovered the basement was filled with smoke, but didn't know where it came from, he said.
"Everybody was confused," he said.
Frink said early Friday night that much of the odor had subsided and the church would be open for this weekend's services. He was told it was cost at least a couple of hundred dollars to repair the organ.
Approximately 20 firefighters from Salem, Windham, Derry and Methuen responded to the fire, Kenney said. The Pelham and Derry fire departments covered Salem's stations.
Firefighters remained at the church for more than hour as they investigated the fire.
Four fire engines, a ladder track and an ambulance were dispatched to the stone church, located at 40 Main St. Salem had to call in other fire departments because it was responding to several other calls at the time, Kenney said.