NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 9, 2013

Blizzard blaze destroys West Newbury home

Storm made firefighting difficult at scene off Merrimack River

By Sonya Vartabedian
Staff Writer

---- — WEST NEWBURY -- A house valued at $1 million on 5 acres along the Merrimack River was destroyed in a fast-moving fire early Saturday morning in the height of the Blizzard of 2013.

White-out conditions and frozen hoses and ladders only made battling the blaze at 11 River Road more problematic, fire Chief Scott Berkenbush said Saturday afternoon.

Anthony and Carolyn Renau, the owners of the single-family, nine-room home, were able to safely escape after reporting the fire at 11:45 p.m. Friday, Berkenbush said.

The fire started on the first floor of the sprawling, 4,700-square-foot, contemporary home and spread quickly with the force of the fierce winds from the storm, the chief said.

"It was fully involved when we got there," Berkenbush said of the house. "It took hours to knock it down. It was up in the roof and with the wind and everything, it just traveled."

West Newbury called on the assistance of numerous area fire departments, with more than 30 firefighters responding to the scene. The chief was still at the scene with a team Saturday afternoon.

The process of getting water to the house in the middle of the blizzard required some complex work using hydrants on River Road and nearby Bridge Street to bring in hoses, Berkenbush said.

"Three pumps were in line to get the water to the fire. One of them froze up and we had to take that out of the line and put another one in," he said. "And everything froze up. All the hoses we had out, our ladders and everything were frozen."

No firefighters or emergency personnel reported injuries at the scene, he said. The fire departments in Groveland, Newburyport, Byfield, Newbury, Georgetown, Amesbury and Merrimac all assisted with the call.

Berkenbush said this isn't the first fire he's battled in a blizzard. He responded to a structure fire in Byfield during the Blizzard of 1978.

"It's unfortunate, but it seems to happen," Berkenbush said.

While West Newbury is a call Fire Department, given that past history, Berkenbush took measures to staff the town's fire station Friday night. He knew that if a fire broke out, his call firefighters would have trouble getting to the station to then respond to the scene. In hindsight, his advance planning proved a smart call.

The fire was still under investigation Saturday afternoon. While Berkenbush wasn't ready to report a cause, he said officials seemed to have an idea of how it started. He did advise people considering the use of alternate heat sources to take caution.

The house was built in 1991, according to town records. The Renaus bought it in 2007 from Clifford Irons for $867,500. It is situated off River Road on a private driveway called Ironwood Way.

Berkenbush wasn't aware if the Renaus were able to save anything in the house before escaping. They were stayed with a neighbor as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze. As of Saturday afternoon, they had not yet been back in their home, the chief said.

"It's a loss," Berkenbush said.