Fire in Amherst shows dangers posed by homes built in 1960s and 1970s

AMHERST – An early morning fire on Old Milford Road in Amherst on Monday is the latest example of hazards involving homes built in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the fire chief.

No one was injured in the fire that started in a chimney at 17 Old Milford Road.

But Amherst Fire Chief Mark Boynton said it could have been worse and other Amherst homes are at risk.

“This is the fourth fire in Amherst in less than a year that has originated in the same area, has the same cause,” and in a home built in about the same time period, Boynton said in an email.

The lack of fire codes or enforcement of codes during the building boom of the 1960s and 1970s, he said, allowed many Amherst homes to be built without the proper separation between combustible materials and heat sources.

The call for a reported fire in the wall came in at 2:39 a.m., Monday, Oct. 28.

Residents of the two-story colonial house told firefighters they had built a fire in the fireplace the previous evening and awoke hours later to smoke detectors sounding and smoke coming from the walls.

Working smoke detectors and the fact that the chimney was located on an exterior wall with insulation helped to limit the spread of fire and damage to the home, Boynton said.

“I am very concerned that a number of these hazards are likely to exist in Amherst,” Boynton said.

“What we are seeing are homes where wood framing materials, such as pine 2-by-4s and plywood, are directly behind the fire place, in direct contact with the brick with no air space to allow the materials to cool. Without the space, the materials can ignite and smolder in the walls undetected until the fire becomes large enough to cause major damage.”

Residents are encouraged to have heating appliances, fireplaces and chimneys cleaned and inspected annually to make sure homes comply with safe practices.

The proper spacing between the brick surface and the combustible surface is a minimum of two inches.

Working smoke detectors are vital in minimizing damage and fire related injuries.

For more information on how to determine if your home is safe, contact the Amherst Fire Department at 673-1545.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or at kcleveland@cabinet.com.