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New Ipswich

Freezing temps slow firefighters

House gutted by flames; community mobilized to support displaced family

Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week.

Richard and Debra Hakala of New Ipswich are settled into a temporary home with their grandson Nicholas Carlson, 19, left, while waiting on the rebuilding process after the burning of their home last week.

NEW IPSWICH — A second-alarm fire Friday morning, which gutted a New Ipswich home, was made more difficult by freezing temperatures that froze engine pumps, according to fire officials.

At about 5:15 a.m. Friday morning, fire responders rushed to 76 Stowell Rd. for a reported house fire. The home is owned by Richard and Debra Hakala, who were on vacation visiting their daughter, Jill Aho, in South Carolina at the time of the fire. The house was occupied by one person at the time of the blaze, said New Ipswich Deputy Fire Chief Gary Somero, in an interview Monday.

Nicholas Carlson, 19, Richard and Debra’s grandson, who was home alone at the time of the fire, was awakened by smoke detectors and was able to escape without injury, according to Suzanne Hakala, Debra and Richard’s daughter-in-law. Another family member who was living in the home, Richard Keurulainen, was not home at the time. Both Keurulainen and Carlson have been staying with family members since the fire, said Suzanne.

The home is still standing, said Somero, but is gutted and likely a total loss.

The cause of the fire is unclear, said Somero. Insurance investigators were scheduled to be on the scene Monday to examine it for a possible cause.

The fire got started in the early morning hours, when it was still snowing and temperatures were below freezing, which made fighting the fire a challenge, said Somero.

“Some of the road conditions were an issue, and the extremely cold temperatures,” said Somero. “The temperatures were around zero, or in the single numbers, which caused problems with water flow and water supply.”

The fire engine pumps were freezing in the cold, said Somero, forcing the department to switch to pumps from mutual aid. Access to water was also an issue, as some of the hydrants the department would have otherwise used were also frozen. Fire crews had the flames out by 11 a.m., and were able to leave the scene by 2 p.m.

“It was a long morning,” said Somero.

In an interview Monday, Aho said her parents are still visiting her, but will be returning to town tonight. When they arrive, they will find an outpouring of local support.

Suzanne Hakala said she would be setting up a rental property to house the family, and it will be very nearly fully furnished by neighbors, friends and family members who have been dropping off furniture and household items in a steady stream since the fire.

“Amazingly, we’ve had so many people donate, there’s not a lot left that’s needed,” said Suzanne. “It’s unbelievable how many people have given stuff.”

And it’s not just items to replace what was lost, either. A TD Bank account, under the name Hakala Fire Fund, has already collected several thousand dollars, said Suzanne. And a fundraising website set up by Aho easily outstripped the $5,000 goal, and had nearly $15,000 of support by Monday evening.

“It’s amazing,” said Aho. “People from all over gave.”

Aho said her parents have not decided what they will be doing moving forward, or whether they will rebuild. “They don’t really know,” she said. “It’s there, and they’re here. They need to come home and figure out things from there.”

Donations to aid the Hakala family can be sent to TD Bank for the Hakala Fire Fund, or made online at www.youcaring.com/help-a-neighbor/hakala-fire-fund/122420. For information about the family’s current needs, contact Suzanne Hakala at zanniehak@aol.com.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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