Berlin, N.H. Battered by Suspicious Fires

April 29, 2004

As firefighters battled a fire that destroyed several downtown businesses in Berlin, N.H. last Sunday night, they also had to respond to a string of suspicious fires.

“It was real crazy all night with back-to-back fires,” Chief Randy Trull said Monday, after a sleepless night.

The cause of the fire on Pleasant Street has not been determined. Fire investigators were unable to get into the building where the fire started because of lingering hot spots and danger from structural damage.

Complicating their efforts to fight that fire was a series of fires in vehicles, a bobhouse, and next to a propane tank.

Investigators have ruled that the smaller fires were arsons, probably committed by the same person or people, said Pete Poulsen, of the state Fire Marshal’s office. But they don’t think the small fires were connected to the Pleasant Street blaze.

The Pleasant Street fire was called in at 4:03 p.m., and four firefighters from Berlin responded. Within half an hour, firefighters from surrounding towns were helping out.

The fire gutted a block of buildings housing five businesses: Color Works, North Country Florist, Studio Works, Waystack and King law office, and Coos County Adult Tutorial and Adult Basic Education.

Officials said the loss was devastating to a city struggling to keep businesses downtown. Mayor Robert Danderson said he would ask Gov. Craig Benson and Sen. Judd Gregg for help rebuilding.

“With the hole we have in the downtown right now, it’s almost impossible that we can handle it on our own,” he said.

At 10:47 p.m. the same night, a fire was reported in a car at the New Hampshire Community Technical College. At 12:25 a.m. Monday, police got a call saying someone had released propane gas from a cylinder at A & B Electronics, then dumped gasoline on the ground next to it and lit a fire.

Later in the morning, a camper was destroyed by fire in Milan, a bobhouse and a car were set on fire on Success Loop Road, and two cars were broken into on Riverside Drive. Items in one of the cars had been burned. Police and fire investigators are seeking the public’s help in solving the arsons.

The Pleasant Street fire reminded many people of a 1991 fire downtown that destroyed four Main Street buildings. Nearly 70 firefighters battled that blaze in subzero temperatures and high winds.

Water from the firefighters’ hoses froze on contact with the buildings, leaving them coated with a thick layer of ice. Several small businesses and the offices of the United Paperworkers International Union were destroyed. That site now is occupied by a Rite Aid store.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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