By Alex Lippa
---- — A three-alarm house fire broke out in Windham yesterday afternoon as thunderstorms and heavy rain pummeled Southern New Hampshire.
It was the worst incident of many across the county, which included downed trees, power outages, multiple fire and security alarms sounding, and flash flood warnings.
Fire Chief Thomas McPherson said although the cause of the fire at 32 Hawthorne Road has not been determined, it occurred during a strong storm about 12:40 p.m.
Eleven fire departments helped battle the blaze. Three firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion at the scene. The air was thick with humidity.
“We got called out to check for smoke in the area,” McPherson said. “When the storm was rolling in, we had multiple calls coming in. We were at reduced staffing when they showed up at the house. They found that there was heavy fire in the attic and going through the roof.”
Firefighters originally responded to 30 Hawthorne Road after reports of smoke in the area. As personnel arrived at the home and were speaking with a contractor, a Windham police officer directed firefighters next door, where heavy smoke and fire were coming from the top floor of the home and the roof.
McPherson said the house was not a total loss, but there was significant damage. The home is assessed at $302,600. No one was home at the time of the fire.
“There was water and smoke damage throughout the house and heavy fire damage on the top floor,” he said. “But it can be salvaged.”
As of late yesterday afternoon, the fire department had not been able to reach the owners of the house.
Although it’s not yet known if weather was a factor in that fire, lightning strikes were reported throughout the area yesterday afternoon, including in Kingston and Derry.
Lightning hit a power line at 50 Mill Road and traveled inside the home the, damaging the meter box, siding and the stove, Kingston fire Chief William Seaman said.
There were four lightning strikes reported in Derry, where a shed was hit and a large tree left in splinters, according to fire department Battalion Chief Michael Gagnon.
The Derry Fire Department received 23 calls in half an hour, he said.
“A lot of people called because they thought their houses were hit,” Gagnon said.
He said his department and many others were concerned about the fire in Windham.
Firefighters from Salem, Derry, Londonderry, Pelham, Auburn, Sandown, Litchfield, Nashua, Hudson, and Chester all assisted in putting out the fire. Atkinson and Dracut provided station coverage.
McPherson said he called for a third alarm to ensure firefighters’ safety.
“We called for it because the heat was playing a role in the firefighters operating in it,” he said. “It was obviously tight quarters in there.”
Once firefighters were able to get into the home, it took between 30 and 45 minutes to put out the fire.
“It took us a while,” McPherson said. “We came for just an investigation, so then we had to wait for an additional truck to arrive to get going.”
Public Service of New hampshire crews were busy trying to restore power to thousands around the state who lost power. Those outages were scattered, by concentrated in Rockingham County. By 6 p.m., about 3,500 PSNH customers were still without power.
There were numerous reports of trees and wires down across the southern part of the state, including a large tree down in Brentwood that closed part of Route 111A temporarily.
More than 4 inches of rain in fallen around Keene by early yesterday evening, with more expected last night.
Thunderstorms were expected to continue last night, with heavy rain expected until early this morning, according to meteorologist Robert Marine of the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.
A severe thunderstorm watch was in effect until 10 p.m. yesterday and a flash flood watch until 6 a.m. today, Marine said. Up to 3 inches of rain was expected in some parts of Southern New Hampshire, he said.
Today and this weekend will be sunny, with temperatures in the 70s and low humidity, Marine said.
“It’s going to feel pretty good,” he said. “It will feel like fall.”
Staff writer Doug Ireland contributed to this report.