By John Toole
---- — DERRY — A man and his dog died Friday in an early-morning fire that the state fire marshal blamed on careless smoking.
Officials identified the victim in the blaze that broke out at 357 Island Pond Road as 48-year-old Michael Lacharite. The state medical examiner concluded the victim died from smoke inhalation.
“The fire investigation has determined that the fire originated on a sofa in the living room of the residence and that the cause of the fire has been determined to be accidental due to misuse of smoking materials in close proximity to papers and rubbish,” State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan’s office said in a press release.
“No smoke alarms were located on the main level of the residence where the victim was located. One smoke alarm was located in the basement, but the detector was approximately 20 years old and not known if it was functioning,” the statement said.
A driver passing by called in the fire from a cellphone at about 1 a.m. after seeing flames coming out the roof of the single-family home.
When firefighters arrived three minutes later, flames blocked their way into the home.
“There were big, huge flames shooting out of the far end of the house and 30 to 40 feet in the air and moving all across the roof,” said Bill Poor, who lives around the corner on Bartlett Road. “The firefighters couldn’t get in at all.”
Search crews later found a body inside the ruins.
Fire officials said the first responders did not hear any smoke alarms in the home. Investigators couldn’t determine if there were any functioning alarms in the house.
Town property records listed Lacharite as the owner of the home.
Poor said Lacharite had lived in the home about 10 years, and alone since his wife, Karen, died last summer. They did not have children, Poor said.
The dog appeared to be a Lab mix.
“He was a good neighbor,” said Poor, who sometimes would talk with Lacharite about the Red Sox or Patriots. “He was big into watching sports on TV.”
Poor thought Lacharite had worked in construction at one time.
“It’s a very sad situation,” said John Foley, who lives across Island Pond Road.
Foley said he awakened after the fire was out.
He said he didn’t know Lacharite well.
“He’s a very pleasant man,” Foley said.
Lacharite had ties to Pelham. His deceased father, Michael, and his mother, Ann Marie, were active in the Pelham community through the years at St. Patrick’s Church and with the Pelham Good Neighbor Fund.
“They are a very good family,” said Frank Sullivan, president of the fund.
He said the Lacharites are very religious and have experienced a lot of tragedy in recent years.
Poor said he was aware of the family losses.
“He was telling me about it one time,” Poor said. “He had been through a pretty quick string of family tragedies.”
Island Pond Road runs north from Route 111 past Island Pond.
The home is in an area without fire hydrants. Water was supplied by tankers from Derry and other communities. Aid was provided by Salem, Londonderry, Pelham, Atkinson, Hampstead, Windham and other towns.
The fire was reported under control at 2:38 a.m. The home was deemed a total loss.
Degnan urged all residents to have working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on each level of their homes, immediately outside of sleeping areas. Smoke alarms should also be placed inside bedrooms and interconnected so that if one alarm sounds they all do, he said.
There is as little as three minutes to escape a fire once a smoke alarm sounds, according to Degnan’s office. He also warned that smoke alarms 10 years or older should be replaced because they lose their effectiveness.
Eleven people have died in New Hampshire so far this year due to fires and carbon monoxide — and all of these tragedies are preventable, Degnan said.