By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Hours after a fire broke out inside a townhouse at The Village at Brickett Hill off North Avenue, residents watched as fire investigators entered and exited the building over and over and could only guess as to what had happened. Even a neighbor who dialed 911 after a teenage boy came to her door to say his home was filled with smoke, said she had no idea if anyone had been hurt.
Authorities last night said the fire resulted in the death of a woman, but that no additional information would be released until there was a positive ID made and next of kin were notified.
Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan, said the fire is being jointly investigated by Haverhill Fire and Police and State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal and to the Essex County District Attorney’s Office. Mieth said questions about the identity of the victim should go to the Essex District Attorney’s Office once the Medical Examiner’s Office has made the official identification and next of kin have been notified.
Just before 11:30 a.m. yesterday, 83-year-old Eleanor DeManche was getting ready to head to her office job when her front doorbell rang. She said the teenage boy who lives in the adjoining townhouse at 41 Brickett Hill Circle said his home was filled with smoke and to call 911. She said the boy told her he was sleeping in the basement and that his mother had taken his sister to school earlier in the morning and he didn’t know if his mother was home or not.
“He had no shoes on his feet and had walked across the snow to ask for help,” DeManche said.
DeManche, who lives at 42 Brickett Hill Circle, said she called 911 then went next door with the boy to see what was going on. Police said they received her 911 call at 11:28 a.m.
“I could see black smoke coming out of the upstairs windows and they weren’t open,” DeManche said.
DeManche said the front door of the home was open and the boy, who told her he’d left it open, walked in and tried to walk up to the second floor, believing his mother might be upstairs.
“He could not get upstairs because there was just too much smoke,” DeManche said. “I assume she (the boy’s mother) was there as the boy opened the garage door and the car was there.”
“I yelled out, ‘Hello, hello!’” DeManche said. “Just then the fire trucks arrived.”
DeManche said she, along with other neighbors who arrived at scene, were ordered to stay back while firefighters entered the home. She said that at one point firefighters broke one of the second floor windows and began pushing articles of clothing out of it.
“I really don’t know the lady,” DeManche said about the boy’s mother.
Neighbors seemed equally in the dark about the family living at 41 Brickett Hill. Some said a woman lived there with her teenage son while others said a teenage girl lived there as well.
Don Talbot, 72, who lives several units away, said it is a rental unit and that various people have lived there over the years.
“I’ve lived here 27 years and have never seen a fire here,” Talbot said about the complex, which has 234 townhouse units.
Yesterday afternoon, Donna Smith of Haverhill arrived at the scene and spoke to fire officials. Smith told The Eagle-Tribune that she runs a house cleaning and pet service business and that the woman who lives at No. 41 is a client who has two cats that she cares for. Smith said that after the fire broke out, a teenage boy who lives there called her and asked her to check on the cats and possibly take them into her care. Smith said that because she was not related to the family, authorities would not tell her what had happened.
“They will probably have to spend the night at a veterinarian,” Smith said about the cats, who she believed were safe. “They’re pretty spooked right now.”
A short time later, a Haverhill animal control officer was seen leaving the condo with two small animal carrying crates.
According to Coan’s office, yesterday’s fire in Haverhill was the eighth Massachusetts fire death so far in 2013, in seven fires.