DANVERS — The careless disposal of smoking materials on the ground caused a three-alarm fire late Friday afternoon that destroyed a house at 8 Sylvan St., across from Town Hall, fire Chief Kevin Farrell said.
“I would say it’s a total loss with the amount of damage in there,” Farrell said. “It would probably be cheaper to tear it down” and rebuild it, he added.
The house, assessed at $294,200, is owned by William and Sara Niland of Topsfield, town records show. William Niland, a 72-year-old cancer survivor, said he had no insurance, and he was in the process of trying to sell it. He has no money to fix it.
“It’s my retirement,” Niland said through tears for the home he loved. The fire has left him “heartsick.” He spent all weekend trying to clean up as best he could.
The couple who rent the first floor were not injured in the blaze, which was reported at 5:36 p.m., Farrell said. The second floor was unoccupied.
A Beverly firefighter was injured when a ladder’s “fly,” or extension, came down on his foot. The firefighter was treated and released from Beverly Hospital, the fire chief said. A black, short-haired cat was rescued from the home.
Fire investigators concluded that the fire started due to smoking from reports “from witnesses and speaking with the tenants,” Farrell said.
“There is no suspicion of it being intentionally set,” he said.
It appears a cigarette was disposed of from the front porch at the left front corner of the house as you face it, Farrell said. The fire appeared to have burned underneath the porch for some time and caught the wooden clapboards, then ran up the side of the Victorian, which was built around the 1870s, Farrell said. Back then, studs in the wall were constructed to run from the sill to the attic, the full height of the home, with no fire stops in between. It’s a method of construction known as balloon frame.