Weekend fire at duplex in Amherst deliberately set, charges will be filed

Last modified: Tuesday, December 02, 2014

AMHERST — A fire that damaged an upstairs bedroom at a Belchertown Road duplex Saturday night was intentionally set and the man responsible for starting the fire will face charges, Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said Monday.

Nelson said that an investigation completed by state troopers assigned to the state fire marshal’s office and Amherst firefighters and police showed that the fire at the 222-224 Belchertown Road was deliberately set.

Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office, confirmed that charges would be filed. Authorities were not certain when the charges will be filed and it what court.

The fire was reported when a resident called 911 at 6 p.m. and firefighters spent 5 to 10 minutes getting the fire under control. No one was injured and the damage was confined to a small area of the home.

“The potential was there, thank God it was found quick,” Nelson said.

The home currently houses between 10 and 12 people, Nelson said. The residents at 224 Belchertown Road were able to return to their bedrooms by Sunday evening once fire and carbon monoxide detectors were back in place, while the residents at 222 Belchertown Road were housed in a hotel.

Most of the residents are clients of Amherst Community Connections, a program run by Hwei-Ling Greeney. She came before the Planning Board last month requesting a site plan review to use the third floor at the duplex for four new bedrooms and possible expansion to 24 beds in 12 bedrooms.

The program began using the home for transitional housing in February 2013 and has graduated 20 residents to other housing, Greeney said.

“It has been quite successful in helping people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless,” Greeney said.

The program has a house manager on site, weekly meetings with the residents are held and case managers assist residents find housing and employment, Greeney said.

Jerald Gates, president of the board of directors for Craig’s Doors who oversees management of the 222-224 Belchertown Road property, said Monday that he did not think the fire would change the proposal to expand the residential facility.

Amherst Community Connections leases the home from owner Judith Gearing, and already has made plumbing and electrical renovations and installed new heating systems and fire detection systems.

“We’ve done a lot of upgrading already,” Gates said.

If the Planning Board approves an expansion, sprinklers would be added throughout and a new fire escape would be constructed on the back side, Gates said.

Nelson said the Planning Board has requested his department’s input before Jan. 7 when the site plan review hearing continues.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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