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The Easter Sunday Fire in Alton Bay

The scenery across the street from my office in Alton Bay abruptly changed on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. At approximately 4:30 PM a smoke column within the Christian Conference Center community was visible to people enjoying the day at the Alton town docks. Sunday was a bright and clear day but very breezy with low humidity. The wind came down Lake Winnipesaukee from the North West and by the time it reached Alton Bay at the southern end of the lake gusts were as high as 40MPH.

The Christian Conference Center has a long lineage in the Alton community. The many cottages erected on the grounds had been used by summer residents for decades. The traditional cottage structures were closely bunched among the tall pines and hardwood trees. And, herein lies the origins of the disaster where a firestorm consumed 40+ cottages outright and damaged many more. What could have been done to avoid the disaster is being and will continue to be much debated in Alton.

The origin of the fire may never be known but conclusions will be reached which have application to all the communities in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Seasonal cottage life in and around Lake Winnipesaukee is a special and distinctive experience. Families have powerful shared summer memories of life in a natural setting near the lakes. I thought a short primer might be in order to review some common sense choices to fire awareness for cottage owners.

There are construction materials that could be utilized for their improved fire resistance characteristics. Roofing and siding are the key components of fire safety. Double glazed and tempered windows are far more resistive than single pane. Elimination of nooks and crannies reduce places where an ember can lodge. Proper care and maintenance of a chimney is critical and every chimney should be screened.

Maintaining open ground around the cottage to create a firebreak and ample use of gravel pathways and rock gardens are important. Maintaining the ground cover and removal of dead or dying shrubs and trees is essential. Making a real distance between the cottage and piles of firewood makes good sense and keep the area free of loose debris.

Be aware that a fire can roll up a hillside faster than it can go down it so pay attention to the ground downhill from the structure. Have traditional fire extinguishers available and instruct members of the family in their use. And it is of the highest importance to make everyone aware of the potential for destruction by fire of the treasured family cottage. (603) 520-5385