By Bill Kirk
---- — METHUEN — A two-alarm fire caused by wood-finishing equipment and materials burned a large hole through a living room floor and caused extensive smoke and heat damage throughout the rest of a single-family home on Columbus Avenue yesterday morning, fire officials said.
The fire was first noticed around 8 a.m. by a neighbor on an adjoining street, who saw smoke coming out the second-story eaves of 23 Columbus Ave. and dialed 911, according to Methuen Dep. Fire Chief Bill Barry.
When Engine 5 arrived, he said, there was nobody in the house and firefighters had to make a “forcible entry.” They found an enormous hole in the living room floor, where the fire appeared to have started.
They brought a single line through the front door, then a second line through the garage to put out the fire in the basement ceiling, Barry said.
“Our guys did a phenomenal job,” Barry said. “They cut it off on the first floor and kept it from going into the second floor.”
Nobody was injured in the fire. The homeowner, Henry Sader, said he and his wife Joelle were both at work and their children in school when the call came in about the fire.
“It was mostly smoke,” said Sader, who has lived in the home for about 10 years.
Fire Inspector Capt. Michael Buote said based on a preliminary review, it appears the fire was caused by equipment and materials used to refinish hardwood floors. He said the homeowner and a friend had been refinishing the living room floor Sunday night using a drum sander.
They had also been using acetone, a highly flammable liquid, to clean brushes, he said. They left the equipment, and the acetone, inside the house, then shut all the windows and doors while the family stayed in a hotel.
The fine dust created by sanding floors is also highly combustible, Buote said. At some point during the night, the heat from the sander ignited the vapors from the acetone and may have ignited the fine dust floating in the air, he said. Because the house was buttoned up tight, the fire could have smoldered for hours before it was noticed by the neighbor.
“There was no way for the vapors to escape,” he said. “The heat of the machine ignited the fire. Acetone is highly flammable. It doesn’t take much to ignite.”
He added, “It appears the origin of the fire was near the wall. It burned down through the floor and the machine ended up in the basement.”
He said the hole in the floor was enormous.
“It was a big hole,” he said. “It was the size of a vehicle.”
Barry said that while there was extensive damage to the house, “we saved the majority of it. They might be able to rebuild.”
The property is assessed at around $300,000.
Firefighters from Salem, N.H., assisted at the scene and Lawrence was called in to back-up Methuen stations.