2010-12-30 / Front Page

Fire destroys north end home

By Geoff Campbell


Firefighters are surrounded by smoke as they battle a Dec. 23 blaze that destroyed a North Main Road residence. Fire departments from surrounding communities sent firefighters and equipment to assist the island volunteers. Photo by Jeff McDonough Firefighters are surrounded by smoke as they battle a Dec. 23 blaze that destroyed a North Main Road residence. Fire departments from surrounding communities sent firefighters and equipment to assist the island volunteers. Photo by Jeff McDonough About 45 firefighters reported to a late evening fire on Dec. 23, which destroyed the home of Stephen and Helen Benjamin at 1235 North Main Road in Jamestown.

The Benjamin family was reported to be at their winter residence, according to a family friend, who aptly called it “shocking news on Christmas eve.” The home’s tenant was away from the property at the time of the fire.

According to Jamestown Fire Chief Jim Bryer, the call came in around 9:30 p.m. In addition to the Jamestown firefighters, crews from North Kingstown, Newport, Middletown and Exeter responded to the fire. As part of the “Tanker Task Force,” North Kingstown sent two pumpers, and Exeter sent one as well.

One of the off-island crews maintained watch at the Jamestown Fire Station in case another call was received. About 15 firefighters from the neighboring towns provided support.

Bryer said that the north end location of the home, across from the town’s transfer station, is nearly the furthest point from the station on the island. When the firefighters arrived the house was “pretty involved,” he said.

“The wind pushed through, rolling the fire through the house,” Bryer said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Bryer said that treating the fire as a crime scene allows local and state fire marshals to examine the scene without disruption.

“It is a crime scene until we make sure it isn’t,” he added.

One Jamestown firefighter suffered a minor injury while getting ready to respond to the fire alarm. Bryer said the firefighter was sent to the hospital and was fine.

On Dec. 27, Police Chief Howard Tighe said, “The fire is still under investigation.” The police, along with Dave Curran, the state fire marshall, continue to look into the fire, but Tighe said that the snow can make the investigation more difficult.

Tighe explained that the construction of the home, the north end location, and an absence of smoke detectors all were factors.

In the winter, with windows closed and people inside, there is less of a chance of a fire being seen or heard by neighbors and without detectors in the home there was no sound coming from the house as the fire gained a hold, Tighe said.

Tighe said that first responders were on the scene within four minutes of the 911 call but that by that point flames could be seen from North Road by the approaching firemen who were still “2,300 to 3,000” feet from the house.

When firemen arrived the house was fully involved, due in part to the wind.

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