The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 3, 2000


Three-alarm fire devastates home on Munroe Hill

Six towns and 38 firefighters were involved in a three-alarm fire at the residence of the Vicharelli family on Munroe Hill Road this past Friday, October 27. The fire was reported by a neighbor at 2:04 p.m. When the first fire crew arrived at 2:09 p.m., the roof was fully involved and Carlisle Fire Chief Bob Koning immediately called for a three-alarm response. The blaze was under control at 3:36 p.m., although the firemen stayed until 5:54 p.m.

Because the house is at the end of a lengthy driveway and not easily visible from the street, no one saw anything amiss for a long time. Neighbors reported smelling smoke around 11 a.m. and assumed that someone was burning leaves. It was not until shortly after 2 p.m. that Lorraine Mezzanotte, who lives across the street from the Vicharellis, saw a wisp of white smoke and immediately reported the fire. She grabbed a pipe on her way out of her home intending to break a window to let any pets escape.

The first person on the scene was Timothy Bellemore, a former Carlisle policeman who now works for the Westford Fire Department, who happened to be passing by. Mezzanotte arrived on the scene and Bellemore used the pipe to break a window and gain access to the house, which by then was ablaze. He entered the house and went upstairs to make a preliminary search for occupants. Bellemore then told Mezzanotte, "I'm going to close the door and search downstairs. Tell someone I'm in here." He was shortly joined by Carlisle Officer Richard Tornquist who arrived as soon as the call was received.

The Carlisle volunteer crew arrived at 2:09 p.m. When Koning saw that the whole structure was on fire, he called for a three-alarm response. Men and equipment then started to arrive from Bedford, Billerica, Concord, Hanscom Field and Westford. Koning called the operation "a good save." However, the Vicharelli house sustained extensive damage.

Fire smolders for six hours

On Friday morning, owners Debbie and Pablo Vicharelli had left for the airport before 6:15 a.m., starting a planned trip to Pennsylvania. Their sons Chris, a senior at Concord Academy, and Steven, an eighth-grader at the Carlisle School, left the house about 7:15 a.m., leaving no one home. The Vicharelli's daughter Amanda, a senior at Stanford University was in California.

The fire started in a one-year-old electric clothes dryer on the second floor of the house. Debbie had left the dryer running, but says it would have turned itself off before the boys left the house. Although the final report has not been returned from the state lab, Koning and other fire specialists called to examine the scene believe that electrical wires and lint in the exhaust duct smoldered slowly all morning in a relatively low-oxygen environment. The blaze accelerated once flames reached the well-ventilated attic.

"Your house is on fire."

The Vicharellis learned of the fire through a phone call from the police at the scene of the blaze. "Mrs. Vicharelli, this is the Carlisle Police," Debbie heard. Recalling the intense parental anxiety of that moment, she remembers that by the time she heard words, "Your house is on fire", she felt relatively relieved. With great cooperation from airlines, Debbie and Pablo were able to return by Friday evening.

"We have received a lot of help from friends and neighbors," said Debbie. "The Carlisle Fire Department, which is all volunteer, gave us a check the same day from their Fire Relief Fund. The Carlisle School helped a lot. So did CA [Concord Academy]. They heard about it so quickly and they didn't just tell the boys, they took care of them. It's heart-touching. It makes me mist up." She also feels emotional when she thinks about the courage of Bellemore and the firefighters who searched the blazing, smoke-filled house for people and animals.

Losses being evaluated

While the losses are still being evaluated, it is clear that the roof is gone and everything on the second floor is irreparably damaged. Fortunately, "the sentimental stuff," the photos and family heirlooms, were all on the first floor. However, it is still too soon to know how much survived as the fire department poured a lot of water into the house.

Amanda flew in from California over the weekend and left the next day. "She felt she had to see it," said Debbie. "It's about closure."

The Vicharellis gray and white cat, Scatter, had not returned as of Wednesday, but neighbors believe they saw him on the front lawn after the fire.

The family has temporarily rented a home on Curve Street and will move in "as soon as we can find some beds."

Fire chief offers praise, advice

In a telephone interview, Koning had high praise for the firefighters from other towns and the large turnout from Carlisle's volunteer department. The ladder truck from Concord was especially helpful since the fire was concentrated in the second story and attic. Koning said he hopes that Carlisle will have a ladder truck in the future.

The fire chief also offered some advice about electric dryers, which have caused several fires in town. He recommended that the exhaust pipe, that collects lint and traps hot air, should be cleaned out annually.


"We have received a lot of help.....It's heart-touching:

Debbie Vicharelli

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito