Smoke detectors save residents from Amherst house fire, officials say

  • In Amherst, 94 Pondview Drive is scene ablaze in the early morning hours of Wednesday. SUBMITTED PHOTO/AMHERST FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • The fire at 94 Pondview Drive in Amherst after the bulk of it was extinguished. SUBMITTED PHOTO/AMHERST FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • The remains of 94 Pondview Drive in Amherst as seen after dawn Wednesday. SUBMITTED PHOTO/AMHERST FIRE DEPARTMENT

  • Fire at 94 Pondview Drive in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2019 8:45:58 AM

AMHERST – Smoke detectors helped avert a tragedy at an Amherst home in the early morning hours of Wednesday, fire officials said.

But the fire at 94 Pondview Drive destroyed a home, built in the 1960s as part of the Orchard Valley development.

“It’s a complete and total loss,” Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said. 

Property records show the house, assessed at $270,600, is owned by Ernest Allen, a University of Massachusetts professor emeritus in the W.E.B DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies.

The fire was called in at 1:28 a.m. by Mary and William Dunn, who live next door, after the residents, Allen and his son Malik, escaped the burning building.

“They both jumped out of second floor windows to escape the fire,” Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren said. 

Both residents were taken in by the Dunns. William Dunn is a full-time firefighter for the town.

“When we heard their cries for help I called 911 while my husband ran over to try to contain the fire, but unfortunately it was too far advanced,” Mary Dunn said. “We kept them warm in our home while they waited.”

The Allens were subsequently transported by ambulance to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and were later released.

“They’re very lucky,” said Stromgren.

Neslon said the American Red Cross is providing vouchers for the family to stay at a hotel. Nelson said he anticipated they would also need to begin getting essentials, including clothes and cellphones, all of which were destroyed in the fire.

The residents told firefighters they were woken up by the smoke detectors going off, according to Stromgren.

“The smoke detectors did exactly what they’re intended to do,” he said. “To wake the people up while they still can.”

Nelson said as bad as the fire was, it illustrates the importance of functioning detectors.

By the time firefighters arrived at the house, it was already engulfed in flames. “Both floors were on fire,” Stromgren said. 

As such, firefighters never went into the building, as the department deployed a “defensive exterior attack” to stop it from spreading.

“There are two houses on either side that we were trying to protect,” Stromgren said.

He said the fire was extinguished in about an hour, although the department was extinguishing hot spots until about 6 a.m.

The fire went to a second alarm, and Amherst was assisted by fire crews from Northampton, Hadley, Pelham, and South Hadley, as well as ambulances from Northampton, Belchertown and South County.

Fire investigators from Amherst and the state fire marshal’s office were on scene throughout Wednesday sifting through the debris and talking to witnesses, Nelson said, though it wasn’t certain when a cause would be identified.

Bera Dunau can be reached at
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