WILLIAMSBURG - A car fire fed by propane destroyed a garage Saturday afternoon at 7 Hyde Hill Branch Road, causing $150,000 in damage and leaving an elderly man homeless.
According to Fire Chief Don Lawton, the 2:30 p.m. blaze quickly engulfed the garage but did not spread to the attached house thanks to fireproof Sheetrock.
The fire was, however, intense, said Lawton, and destroyed the garage and its contents and left the interior of the house with major smoke and heat damage. Paint even peeled off the ends of Sheetrock screws from the tremendous heat, said Lawton, and interior walls are black from top to bottom.
Chester S. Kenderski, 88, the sole occupant of the home, was already outside when emergency crews responded to the scene. He was transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital and later released. "He had a little chest pain but he's OK," said Lawton. "Obviously, he's a little shaken up."
Peter Salvatore of Hadley, Kenderski's stepbrother, said Sunday evening that Kenderski was still being held at the hospital for observation.
"He inhaled a bit of smoke so they want to keep him there," said Salvatore. "Actually, he's very, very healthy in general," he noted, "but it's very traumatic to lose your home." Salvatore planned to notify Kenderski's other relative, a daughter who lives in New Jersey.
Following an investigation Sunday morning, the state fire marshal and Williamsburg's fire investigator concluded that the cause of the blaze was a malfunction in the automobile stored in the attached garage.
Kenderski, who no longer holds a driver's license, was likely starting his car Saturday afternoon to warm it up, something he did once a month or so according to Police Chief John W. Cotton. Kenderski told Cotton he saw puff of black smoke under the car and then the fire broke out.
The car's fuel tank caught fire and when emergency valves on two propane cylinders stored in the garage melted, the propane vented into the fire, increasing the heat of the blaze.
"The propane tanks didn't explode," said Cotton, "but when they vented, they introduced propane to the fire, increasing the intensity a hundredfold."
Lawton Sunday praised Williamsburg's police and fire departments for their quick response.
"It was ready to flash over when we arrived," said Lawton, "and a very aggressive attack by the first units meant we were able to knock it out."
Williamsburg crews were helped by Goshen, Chesterfield, Northampton and Westhampton fire departments who responded to Lawton's call for mutual aid. Easthampton's fire department provided coverage at the station in case a fire broke out in another part of town.
"Everybody did what they were asked to do," said Lawton.
"It was a classic example of teamwork," agreed Cotton, "and it's one of the great things about the Hilltowns - when you need help, people are there. They all know their jobs, and they pitch in and get the job done."
In a press statement released Sunday afternoon, Lawton credited modern fire code for preventing serious injury and controlling the extent of the damage to the building. The fire-rated Sheetrock in the garage contained the spread of fire into the house and working smoke and heat detectors provided early warning of the fire.
"The building codes of Massachusetts are what saved the house," said Lawton.
Interestingly, noted Lawton, when firefighters removed Sheetrock, there was no damage to the wooden frame of building behind it.
Lawton remained on the scene for part of the night Saturday and then other Williamsburg firefighters rotated in to monitor it until Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, Lawton was taking a well-deserved break.
"Since Christmas Eve, we've had seven calls," said Lawton, "and four calls alone in the 24 hours over Christmas." Before this weekend's blaze, Williamsburg firefighters had responded to one structure fire in Westhampton, but everything else was minor, he noted.