Man, son escape burning home in Orange

  • Members of the Orange Fire Department spray water on a house fire at 120 Moss Brook Road in Orange Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Will Swedburg handed his son, Alex, 5, out the window of his family’s burning home to a passing motorist who awakened them before crawling out himself. Three other family members were out of town during the fire. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • According to Orange Fire Chief James Young, the fire was “well involved” when firefighters arrived to a burning house and barn. The original 911 call came in from a motorist who reported a column of smoke from Route 2. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A father and son escaped out a window of their home at 120 Moss Brook Road in Orange after a passerby alerted them of the fire. With no hydrants, a lack of water hampered firefighting at the scene. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Orange firefighters at the scene of the fire that destroyed a home at 120 Moss Brook Road in Orange Wednesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2019 9:40:19 PM

ORANGE — A father and his 5-year-old son escaped their burning home Wednesday morning by crawling out of a window after being alerted by a passing motorist.

Will Swedberg of 120 Moss Brook Road was awakened by banging on his front door Wednesday morning around 7 a.m. by the motorist. While there was little smoke in the area of the house at the time, Swedberg said he woke his son, Alex and tried to exit the home through a side door, but the heat from the fire at that exit was too intense to bring his son out.

Swedberg passed Alex out a front window to the man who had alerted them before crawling out himself. He went back in briefly to grab his keys to save his truck, moving it up the road.

The original 911 call came in from a driver on Route 2 who saw the smoke rising north of the highway. A second alarm was struck due to the report of the column of smoke and the rural location.

By the time Orange Fire Department arrived, the home was engulfed in fire, with flames emerging from its roof, windows and doors, “every opening in the building,” according to Orange Fire Chief James Young.

“When we got here the house was almost completely involved in fire and started collapsing in different areas,” Young said. “Lots of fire everywhere.”

Young said firefighters did not enter the building as it was too dangerous and “too far gone” when they arrived.

The lack of hydrants in this rural part of Orange prevented firefighters from being able to constantly pour water on the structure once the tanker trucks were empty. Only one third of Orange, mostly the center, is serviced by hydrants, Young added.

A large hose was used to pump water up to the scene from an estimated 2,000 yards away at the intersection of Route 2A and Wendell Depot Road by the Millers River. A second pumper was stationed halfway up the hill to help pump the water to the scene. Route 2A, Wendell Depot Road, Route 78 and other nearby roads were closed due to the fire.

The heat from the fire was so intense that it melted plastic toys in the front yard and made the guard rail across the road too hot to touch.

Watching the fire, Swedberg said he was relieved to get out of the house with his son, who was clutching a stuffed dinosaur, but he lamented having to call his parents, Fred and Elizabeth Swedberg, who own the house, and his sister Kristine Swedburg, to inform them they have no home to return to. They were out of state attending a music festival. And then he remarked he has no phone to call them anyway since it was lost to the fire.

Swedberg had no idea how the fire started but he said the barn was ablaze and the greenhouses were lit up when he looked out the window. The two-story house, built close to the road on a hill, was leveled to the ground by the fire. The tall, thin central chimney came crashing to the ground, the last thing standing as several area towns poured water on what was left of the home and barn.

Swedberg said the house was insured. The family cat, Arthur, was unaccounted for Wednesday morning.

Fire departments responding to the scene were Orange, Athol, New Salem, Phillipston, Erving, Wendell, Northfield, Turners Falls, Greenfield, Shutesbury, Royalston and Templeton. Local and State police handled traffic while Woods and Northfield Ambulances stood by. The Salvation Army arrived with bottled water and granola bars. National Grid was on scene to cut power to the road.

Dan Parsons, emergency disaster services coordinator from Athol’s Salvation Army branch, said the group will help the family in any way they may need, now and in the future.

“We will continue in that role in the days and months to come, as their needs arise,” Parsons said. “Obviously, they’ve lost everything.”

Reporter Grace Bird contributed to this story.

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