|Firefighters walk past the charred remains of a truck during yesterday's barn fire at A&a Balloon Rides Ltd.|
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – A series of explosions rocked an East Derry neighborhood yesterday, as propane tanks ignited a blaze at A&a Balloon Rides Ltd., destroying a storage barn and balloonist Andre Boucher's entire fleet of hot air balloons.
“I don't know what happened. I was in the basket refueling when something must have sparked,” said Boucher, his face, arms and clothes still smudged with soot. “I'm just glad I got out of there.”
|Andre and Alice Boucher watch their balloon business burn.|
“We thought it might have been an airplane crashing, it was that loud. It sounded like a bomb. The house actually shook,” said Lerchenfeldt. He ran down his Reuben Road driveway and headed up the hill in the direction of Boucher's place.
“That's when I heard a series of explosions, and I knew it was Andre's balloons. And that's when I saw smoke billowing from the barn. It's also when I thought it might be a good idea to run back down the hill toward home,” Lerchenfeldt said.
“It could've been a real tragedy. We were glad to know Andre and everyone was safe,” Lerchenfeldt said. “But we were worried there would be more explosions. My wife grabbed the dogs, the cat and the checkbook and drove to a friend's house.”
Another neighbor, Don Tucker, who lives across the street from the Bouchers, said after he heard the first explosion he ran outside to see what was going on.
|Minutes after Derry firefighters arrived at the scene. COURTESY/ DERRY FD|
“I could see a fireball up on the hill, where the barn is. Then I saw a piece of something metal, I figure it must be a chunk from one of the tanks, it came flying through the trees and landed next to my mailbox,” said Tucker. “It's still there,” he said, pointing to the street in front of his home, where white chemical foam had run down Boucher's hill and settled across Warner Hill Road like snow from a very isolated snow storm.
More than a dozen surrounding towns responded to the blaze, primarily sending water tankers, which were needed due to a lack of hydrants in the East Derry neighborhood. One firefighter was taken to Parkland Medical Center with a non-life threatening injury, according to Battalion Chief Jack Webb. He said Boucher and another person were evaluated at the scene for minor injuries, but were not taken for treatment.
The intense heat of the blaze melted the siding off part of Boucher's house and cracked the windshield of Derry's Engine 4. Stacks of water bottles and ice lay on the ground next to firefighters, who had peeled off their gear and were taking a breather from battling the blaze in shifts, once the fire was under control.
Alice Boucher said she had left home early to go to the Londonderry Flea Market in hunt of some bargains. She was shopping when her cell phone rang.
“It was my daughter. She told me there was a fire, so I rushed home to this,” said Alice Boucher, looking up across her singed lawn to where a plume of white and yellow smoke continued to rise above the smoldering mound of rubble that was once the storage barn, right next to her home.
“All those balloons, all those baskets, gone,” she said.
In addition to vehicles and balloons, the three-story barn was also a store house for antiques she inherited from her mother. “It's a shame, but my family is safe,” she said.
Another neighbor, Lisa Hultgren-Suffreti stopped by to see if she could get the Bouchers a cup of coffee, a bottle of water – a beer – anything she could do to return the kindness they had extended to her just a little over a year ago when her home was destroyed by fire.
|Thick smoke and the need for a water supply made fighting the fire a challenge.|
Hultgren-Suffreti lives directly across Warner Hill Road from the Bouchers. After more than a year of rebuilding, she and her significant other, Lance Stevens, and their kids were finally able to move back into their own home last week, which was destroyed in the May 2009 blaze.
“We had been out for a drive and were on our way back when we saw the road was blocked. My heart started pounding as I asked for the address. I was afraid it was our house, again,” said Hultgren Suffreti.
She said hot embers from the explosion landed on her newly-installed roof and ignited in a construction debris Dumpster next to her house.
“Someone used our garden hose to put out the Dumpster fire, and some embers landed on our deck and roof, but we're fine. I can't believe this happened on our street again,” she said to Boucher. “I think this neighborhood has had enough.”
Towns assisting Derry with the fire included Londonderry, Windham, Salem, Chester, Auburn, Hampstead, Manchester, Hooksett, Raymond, Atkinson, Pelham, Litchfield, Candia, Plaistow and Hudson. The Nashua Salvation Army was on hand to assist firefighters as they battled the blaze.
Public Service of New Hampshire was called to restore power after some of the neighbors lost power following the explosions. Public Works was also called to take care of the avalanche of chemical snow accumulating on Warner Hill Road.