WOONSOCKET – An intense fire apparently breaking out in a finished breezeway left Paul and Lorraine Jacobs without a home Friday afternoon.
Paul Jacobs, 69, the well-known local video and sound company owner who records meetings of City Council and other popular events, also lost equipment and possibly years of recordings when the fire swept through an attached garage and the two-level home at 49 Hillsdale Street while the couple was away.
No one was in the dwelling at the time, but a city firefighter was reported overcome by heat and exhaustion while battling the fire and was transported to Landmark Medical Center by rescue for observation, according to firefighters.
Jacobs and his wife were comforted by other family members, friends and neighbors after arriving at the fire scene just after noontime but were devastated by view of their heavily-damaged home seen from a neighbor’s driveway nonetheless.
“It’s not good,” Jacobs said after firefighters had put out most of the fire and were working on mopping up the remaining hot spots in the now roofless garage.
“There’s nothing left in the house and garage and the office is all destroyed,” Jacobs, who operated his business from the house, said after being allowed a quick survey of the damage with firefighters.
Some of the equipment Jacobs uses to video City Council meetings at Harris Hall was stored in the basement of the dwelling and Jacobs said it appeared he might be able to salvage some items he would need for Monday night’s meeting of the panel. Firefighters had also pulled some of Jacobs sound equipment from the garage while fighting the fire but it was not known if the equipment had been damage.
Jacobs also did not know the condition of video tapes and DVDs he had produced over his many years of broadcasting meetings and events such as Autumnfest, and would have wait to determine how much had been saved. Firefighters gathered up and removed as much of Jacobs’ equipment and records as possible while completing the mop up.
Jacobs’ daughter, Paula Berard, who was joined by her husband, Robert, and son, Jacob, at the scene, said she was relieved that no one had been seriously injured but was still worried about the long term impact of the fire on her father’s business.
“It’s easy to say it’s just stuff in a house, but it’s not just stuff when it is something you need to make your living,” she said.
Jacobs said he and his wife had left their house at 10:30 a.m. to go to eat lunch at the Woonsocket Senior Center. A neighbor driving past the house at 11 a.m. had not noticed anything unusual, Jacobs said. At about noon, Jacobs said he received a call on his cell phone from WNRI Radio personality and friend, Jeff Gamache, telling him his house was on fire.
Another friend and fellow East Woonsocket resident, Dave Lahousse, had heard about the fire and helped to get the word to Jacobs.
Jacobs, himself, had been an early resident of the neighborhood, building 49 Hillsdale Street in 1965 when Hillsdale was just a dirt road and serving one other residence.
Although overwhelmed by the loss of his home, Jacobs took solace in the help people were offering his family at the scene.
“The neighbors have been fantastic,” Jacobs said.
Deputy Chief John Danis termed the fire a difficult one to fight given the amount of fire showing at the time units arrived on scene at about 11:42 a.m. Initially firefighters did not know if anyone was home and made an entry to check the residence. Jacobs subsequently arrived at the scene and informed firefighters everyone was out of home.
A wood stove was operating to heat the breezeway area but Janis could not say Friday afternoon if the stove had been the source of the fire.
The heavy fire load in the breezeway area, possibly fueled by contents in that area, had spread to both the garage and into home, consuming a portion of the outside wall of the house and continued up in the upstairs level where two bedrooms were located.
The deep snow in the neighborhood and tight confines of the street hampered firefighters trying to work around the home. Mayor Leo T. Fontaine’s decision to idle the local department’s smaller ladder truck, Ladder 1, as a cost savings also left firefighters with only city’s large aerial rig that had difficulty maneuvering the neighborhood.
The aerial truck was used to put a water cannon over the roof to knock down hot spot during the mop up.
Danis said two fire marshals went to work on a probe of the cause Friday afternoon but he had not yet received a report on the cause.
The Jacobs had been given several offers of temporary housing by friends and had not yet decided where they would stay. The home was not viewed as habitable and may have to be completely rebuilt, according to Danis.
Fire engines from Cumberland, Blackstone and North Smithfield assisted the local department at the fire scene and with city coverage while blaze was being fought. The Providence Canteen truck respond as did Cumberland’s air supply vehicle.
Lahousse brought the firefighters sandwiches from Kay’s, his restaurant on Cass Avenue, and other neighbors opened their homes to Jacobs’ family members. The home was insured but Jacobs could not say Friday if it would be repaired or rebuilt.
“The firefighters worked very hard but when they got here it was engulfed,” he said. “They said a fire can smolder for a while and when they open up the building it just goes,” he said.