CHESHIRE -- A School Street homeowner trying to thaw his pipes on a frigid Thursday inadvertently caused a structure fire that resulted in serious damage to his home.
It began before 3 p.m. in the basement crawl space of 86 School St. and ascended "very, very quickly" into the attic of the single-story home, owned by Michael Gallagher.
Cheshire Fire Chief Tom Francesconi said a blowtorch being used to heat the pipes caught some insulation on fire. Firefighters had the fire under control just under an hour later.
Though they reportedly had a tough time doing their work in the "brutal" cold, Francesconi estimates that the house can be saved.
"There is heavy smoke damage throughout, but
Gallagher had purchased the home recently and it was insured, Francesconi said. One of Gallagher's cats survived the blaze but a second was killed.
Calls reporting heavy smoke from the single-occupant residence drew first responders at 3 p.m.
Cheshire, Adams and Lanesborough fire departments arrived and began an "interior attack" on flames in the crawlspace where the fire began.
But the tight quarters and cold temperatures quickly made things difficult.
"Ice was a major factor for us," Francesconi said. "Two fire engines' lines froze solid."
He and others were happy to take advantage of a North Adams Rehab unit, which also responded to provide tents and warmth.
Francesconi said the fire spread so quickly in part because of the home's age, and old-fashioned balloon framing.
"It's an old house and that's how they used to build them back in the day," Francesconi said. "There's no fire stops, so once [the fire] gets into the walls it can go right up to the attic space, and that's what happened."
Dalton Fire Department also responded, covering Cheshire's station.
Various challenges aside, Francesconi was pleased with how quickly the fire was contained.
"I'm proud of the troops," he said.
To reach Phil Demers, email