At 12:32 a.m. Thursday, the Portsmouth Fire Department received a 911 call from the residents of 144 Wapping Road, who said their home was filling with smoke, according to Deputy Fire Chief Michael O’Brien. Two engines, a ladder truck and car were dispatched, with the first company arriving at 12:39 a.m., he said.
When firefighters arrived, the occupants were outside waiting for them, Deputy O’Brien said. Firefighters arrived to find the occupants of the home evacuated and waiting for them. Upon entering the home, firefighters found smoke but no visible flames. They scanned the home with thermal imagers in an attempt locate the hidden fire, the deputy chief said.
Locating the fire was challenging, he said; records showed that the 5,000-square-foot home was constructed in 1880. Construction methods of that time, called balloon frame construction, allowed for large void spaces to be created within walls. Smoke from the hidden fire traveled and vented throughout the residence, according to Deputy O’Brien.
Firefighters eventually located the fire in an exterior wall. The fire started from an overheated string of Christmas lights and extension cord, according to Deputy O’Brien, who said the exterior shingles ignited and spread into the home. The fire’s origin was obscured by heavy vegetation.
Firefighters used tools to cut into the walls and were able to quickly extinguish the fire, limiting damage to the exterior wall and electrical system, Deputy O’Brien said. Firefighters were able to isolate the effected electrical service and restore power to the rest of the home.
After ventilation the homeowners were able to stay in their residence, he said.
The last crew cleared the scene at 2:05 a.m., the deputy chief said, adding that a Navy engine covered the rest of the town during the incident.