EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2013

Man, dog escape Plaistow fire

Cats missing after blaze ravages home

By Alex Lippa

---- — PLAISTOW — When John O’Connor woke up yesterday morning, he heard the sound every homeowner dreads: the beeping of smoke detectors.

O’Connor saw the curtains in his living room engulfed in flames. He soon escaped his Cape Cod-style home at 103 Willard Way with his dog.

But the two-alarm fire, which was called in at around 9:30 a.m., heavily damaged a portion of his house.

“It’s just devastating,” O’Connor said. “I can’t believe it.”

Fire Chief John McArdle didn’t yet know the official cause of the fire, but his suspicion was it was an electrical fire. He said the fire was not suspicious.

The house had significant damage and McArdle was unsure if it could be salvaged. Windows were smashed as gray smoke billowed out of the right section of the house. Firefighters worked for more than three hours as they attempted to completely extinguish the fire.

An addition to the left side of the house, as well as the basement where O’Connor runs a custom motorcycle business, had minimal smoke damage.

O’Connor, 47, lives at the home with his wife Susan and his son Michael. Susan O’Connor was working an overnight shift as a nurse in Methuen. Michael had just left an hour earlier to go to school at Southern New Hampshire University.

“Thank God, he wasn’t home,” O’Connor said. “He would have been sleeping right above where the fire started.”

O’Connor was able to save his 12-year-old Shih Tzu, Dudley, but he didn’t believe his two cats, Sweeney and Simba, made it out.

O’Connor woke to the sound of smoke detectors and ran into his living room where he saw his curtains on fire. He ran downstairs to get a fire extinguisher, but by the time he got back to the living room, the flames were too overwhelming.

“There was just no chance (to put it out). I just got on my hands and knees and started looking for my dog,” he said. “I found him under a table and just got out quickly.”

O’Connor, still in his pajamas, escaped the house. A neighbor had just called 911. Another neighbor took O’Connor inside their home and gave him some warm clothes. O’Connor said he suffered no injuries, except minor burns to his hair.

The Plaistow Fire Department came to the house minutes later, and immediately called in a second alarm. Hampstead, Salem, Atkinson and Danville fire departments came to help. Kingston and Newton firefighters covered Plaistow fire station.

“Our goal was to try and preserve as much as we can and make sure no one was injured,” McArdle said.

O’Connor watched from across the street as the firefighters tackled his home of 18 years for several hours. Neighbors were standing with O’Connor in what was described as a “usually quiet neighborhood.”

The house was built in 1987. It’s assessed at $198,100, according to town records.

Firefighters concentrated on the second floor after the fire settled down. They chopped through the roof, which O’Connor said he had just replaced last summer. Damaged items from the living room were dragged out into the back yard.

O’Connor said that he did have insurance on his home.