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Waterford — Four people escaped a fire Sunday afternoon that destroyed a house at 11 Josan Drive.
The fire broke out just before 4 p.m. on the small street off Oswegatchie Road. When the first firefighters arrived, the six-room ranch was engulfed in flames.
Traci Nelson, whose backyard on Dubreuil Drive abuts that of the house that caught fire, said a man in his 50s and his elderly mother lived in the house.
"He came running over and said, 'Call 911, my house is on fire,'" Nelson said. "You could see it from our backyard. It went up pretty quickly."
Nelson said the man moved his mother to the front porch of the burning home before asking Nelson to call 911. She and her brother, Dan Nelson, helped the man get the woman to safety.
Firefighters from all five of the town's fire companies, along with firefighters from New London and the Mohegan Tribal department, responded to the blaze.
"Upon arrival we had heavy fire in the rear of the house," Oswegatchie fire company Capt. John Sylvestre said at the scene. "By that time, all occupants of the house had exited."
Sylvestre said there were four people inside when the fire broke out. Neither they nor the firefighters were injured.
"Our crews began with an aggressive interior attack," Sylvestre said. "But shortly after we began, the whole first floor flashed over."
As some firefighters fought the blaze from the front of the house, others staged on Dubreuil Drive and doused the fire from the rear of the home.
"But we found, as we made an interior attack, that the construction of the house was not conducive to our firefighting efforts," he said.
Sylvestre said that because the house's ceilings were made of plywood instead of drywall, the firefighters could not use their hooks to create vents into the attic, where the fire had spread.
"About 40 minutes into the firefighting effort we pulled everyone out of the building," because the roof was showing signs of a possible collapse, he said.
From that point on, firefighters shifted to fighting the blaze from the outside. The roof, he said, eventually suffered a partial collapse.
The bulk of the fire was under control after about an hour and a half, but crews continued to extinguish hot spots to make sure it would not reignite.
Dan Nelson said the homeowner told him that he believed the fire started because of a furnace problem. Sylvestre said the fire marshal's office is investigating the cause.
Because all five of Waterford's fire companies responded to the fire, crews from Niantic, Montville and Flanders covered the town's stations.