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Melanson's Fire Not Suspicious

Ipswich -

The three-alarm fire that destroyed the Melanson's Boat Shop building at 27 Water St. and severely damaged the adjacent home at 29 Water St. on Friday, Aug. 7, remains under investigation by the state fire marshal's office.

"There's no indication of foul play, but the cause is still under investigation," Fire Chief Art Howe III said. "We don't want anyone jumping to any conclusions. We do know the fire started in the Melanson's building."

Howe said the full investigation would take several weeks to complete.

No one was injured in the fire, but Ipswich firefighter Keith Carlson cut his hand on Saturday, Aug. 8, while on a detail to douse the smoldering ruins of boat shop building.

Firefighters prevented the flames from spreading to another house at 31 Water St.

Buildings abutting the Ipswich River on Water Street are only several feet apart.

"We're lucky we didn't have 40-knott winds that day," Howe said. "It could have gone right down the street."

When firefighters arrived at about 9:30 a.m., Howe said the fire had already jumped to the newly constructed, two-and-a-half-story, three-bedroom home at 29 Water St., valued at $239,600 on town tax rolls.

Owners William and Lee Nelson were away on vacation and Howe said the home was "about 50 percent destroyed."

Henry Melanson Jr., who lived in the boat yard building's second floor, and his nurse got out safely.

"The Nelson's home should be able to be reconstructed," Howe said. "It's heavily damaged, but not a total loss."

Melanson and his nurse were in the Melanson building at the time of the fire and initially noticed "flame in the wall, coming from the outlet where they plug in the TV," said Howe.

The boat shop building, a two-story, wooden structure, 6,600 square feet, 74 feet long by 40 feet wide, which had fallen into disrepair with weathered shingles and exposed beams, was already fully involved when firefighters arrived.

The building, valued at $99,000 on tax rolls, totally collapsed in a wall of flame about an hour into the fire.

The town tax rolls show Arthur M. Harrington Jr. of Rowley owns the boat shop.

Plans to redevelop the property, proposing building four condominiums, are before the Zoning Board.

"It went up real fast. It was real quick," said Donald Freyleue, who was shooting video of the fire and lives in the neighborhood.

"The fire had a rapid rate of expansion," Howe said. "That's fairly common in buildings with high ceilings and large spaces not divided up. It was a loosely constructed building."

When faced with such circumstances, Howe said firefighters concentrate on preventing the fire from spreading to other buildings.

"We concentrate on cutting off the fire and then working back," said Howe. "The focus was on saving as much of the Nelson house as possible."

Small amounts of solvents, paints, varnish and linseed oil -- "typical things you'd find in a boat yard," said Howe -- likely contributed to the fire's rapid spread.

Howe said none of the products were present in large enough quantities to trigger federal safety regulations that require registration with the local fire department.

"There may have been some combustibles inside," Fire Department Lt. Will Maker said. "There was a lot of popping."

"You could hear some popping and some small explosions," said Freyleue. "The flames were spectacular. There was definitely detonation going on."

Heat from the fire was so intense it damaged Ipswich's ladder truck, melting some plastic fittings and connections when the boat shop building collapsed.

Debris from the fire fell into neighboring Ipswich River, but Howe said there was no major environmental damage.

The Coast Guard put out booms to contain any contamination, and an environmental cleanup company was on the scene.

In all, Maker said six engines and two ladder trucks fought the fire, with mutual aid coming from most surrounding communities including Rowley, Essex, Topsfield, Hamilton, Wenham, Beverly and Newburyport.

The U.S. Coast Guard also sent a 25-foot boat to patrol the river and make sure there were no victims in the river.

Ipswich's two engine companies and ladder truck "were fully committed," Maker said.

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