By MICHAEL MORTENSEN, THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The organizer of Laconia Motorcycle Week was dealt a major blow when its offices were destroyed in a two-alarm fire on Christmas Day.
The fire, which burned out of control for two hours, destroyed the records of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, as well as its inventory of T-shirts and other Motorcycle Week paraphernalia, along with thousands of historic photographs and other memorabilia.
“Everything is gone. It was a bad, bad fire,” Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the association said Sunday.
Two passing motorists noticed smoke coming from the building at 1105 Union Ave. at about 9:50 a.m. on Friday, and called 9-1-1. Laconia, Gilford, and Belmont fire companies were dispatched to the scene three minutes later.
Moments after arriving, firefighters went into the apartment on the second floor of the building to rescue a man who was overcome by smoke and unable to get out on his own, Laconia Fire Chief Kirk Beattie said. The man was evaluated by paramedics at the scene, but refused to be taken to the hospital for further treatment and evaluation.
One firefighter suffered a minor knee injury and was treated at the scene, Beattie said.
Though the investigation into the fire is continuing, Beattie said it was likely that an electrical problem may have been the cause. He said the fire had probably been burning for hours before it was discovered.
“It took a long time to be seen,” he said.
St. Clair surmised the brick walls on the first floor of the building kept the fire contained to the interior.
He said the heat inside was so intense that it melted the paper towel dispenser in the restroom.
“It was like a furnace. It was awful,” St. Clair said.
He said he and Jennifer Anderson, the association’s deputy director, had just begun work on the 2021 edition of Rally News, a magazine which contains information about the races and other activities during the nine-day event, as well as advertisements from the event’s sponsors and many local businesses.
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That, along with Motorcycle Week merchandise dating back to 2011, and photographs – some dating back to the 1940s – and a collection of vintage magazine and newspaper articles were all reduced to ashes.
But beyond the loss of the organization’s records and inventory, St. Clair said he was especially saddened by the apparent loss of the office cat, Ashland. The cat had been the office mascot for 10 years.
The cat’s remains had not been found as of Sunday evening.
“I’ll probably find him and when I do that’s probably when I’ll break down,” St. Clair said.
St. Clair was quick to praise the work of the firefighters.
“They did an incredible job,” he said, adding that he planned to tell the City Council at Monday night’s meeting just how appreciative he is.
He said he planned to go through the charred rubble to see what, if anything, can be salvaged from the debris.
The Motorcycle Week Association occupies the entire 1,700 square-foot first floor of the building.
The building, which totals just over 3,000 square feet, is owned by Carl Brewer III, of Gilford, according to city records.
St. Clair said the association had insurance, but he was unsure if it would be adequate to cover all the damages. He said he had been in contact with a company to do the cleanup work.
Beattie said while firefighters managed to bring the fire under control by noon — two hours after arriving on the scene — he said some fire crews remained on the scene until 5:30 p.m. while they went through the building to inspect open walls, ceilings, voids, and partitions to check for any extension of the fire.
The Red Cross was assisting the occupants of the apartment, Beattie said.
St. Clair said he had already received offers for temporary office space for the association. While some have offered to donate money to help the organization get back on its feet, he said he has so far held off accepting the donations until the association has a clearer idea of how it will move forward.
The state Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting in the fire investigation.
Gilford, Belmont, Meredith, Sanbornton, Tilton-Northfield, Alton, and Franklin fire departments, assisted Laconia companies in fighting the fire.