NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2012

Antiques stored in 160-year-old home destroyed by fire

Cause of blaze may have been electrical

By Douglas Moser
staff writer

---- — METHUEN — A 160-year-old house with rooms full of antiques was destroyed in a two-alarm fire yesterday afternoon.

The house at 510 Prospect St. is owned by Paul and Denis Webster-Greene, who own Webster Greene Antique shop on Broadway. They were not home when the fire started about 2:30 p.m.

Denis Webster-Greene said they lost a lot of antiques, many from the business, that were stored in the house

“Our house was full of antiques,” he said. “But the important thing is everyone is alive. Even though we can’t replace all the antiques, life goes on.”

Fire Chief Steven Buote said yesterday evening that the cause was under investigation, but that it initially appeared to be electrical. Firefighters arrived and found much of the first floor engulfed, with fire billowing out a couple of windows.

“They knocked it down pretty quickly and it looked like it would have been a good stop, but it got into the walls and was breaking out in the second floor and attic area,” Buote said. “It moved too rapidly before they arrived.”

There were no injuries to firefighters reported.

The fire spread to the eaves and roof on the south side of the house, and then to the main gable. Flames would pop up again several minutes after being sprayed down. Firefighters spent nearly two hours working on the roof, eventually sawing into it in order to spray. Buote said the top floor is a small crawlspace attic with limited access.

The Webster-Greenes are staying with friends.

Webster-Greene said the house was built in the 1840s. There was an addition on the back that connected the main house to a carriage house or barn in the rear. Buote said there was minor damage to the addition and no damage to the carriage house.

David Hersey, who works in construction, said older houses tend to have what is called a balloon frame, meaning the frame is made of a line of studs the height of the structure. A significant problem with that design is it can channel fire up the walls and allow it to spread to other floors quickly.

Newer homes are built with a platform frame structure to prevent a fire from spreading that way. Some older homes with balloon frames have blocks installed between the floors as well.

“The flames first came out of that (front) corner and then shot up the walls to the second floor,” he said. He was in the area just as the fire started, he said.

Salem, N.H., firefighters arrived on scene to assist, and Lawrence Fire helped provide coverage during the blaze. Methuen Police provided its mobile command center vehicle for the Webster-Greenes for heat and shelter during the afternoon.

Denis Webster-Greene is president of the Methuen Historical Society and husband Paul is founder and director of the North Region Theatre Workshop.