No cause found in Amherst house fire

  • A fire destroyed this home at 94 Pondview Drive in Amherst on Wednesday, Jan. 23.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2019

AMHERST — Authorities have credited functioning smoke detectors as helping to save the lives of the two occupants of a house fire on Pondview Drive on Wednesday, Jan. 23, Ernest Allen Jr. and his son Malik Allen. Both were able to escape the flames by jumping from the second floor.

“The smoke detectors did exactly what they’re intended to do,” Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren said. “To wake the people up while they still can.”

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said as bad as the fire was, it illustrates the importance of functioning detectors.

By the time firefighters arrived at the house, it was already engulfed in flames. “Both floors were on fire,” Stromgren said.

As such, firefighters never went into the building, as the department deployed a “defensive exterior attack” to stop it from spreading.

“There are two houses on either side that we were trying to protect,” Stromgren said.

The cause of a fire that destroyed the home may never be pinpointed, according to the state fire marshal’s office.

Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the office, said Thursday, Jan. 24, that the official cause of the blaze, which engulfed a home at 94 Pondview Drive at around 1:30 a.m. the previous day, is undetermined, but appears to be accidental.

“The extent of the destruction makes it impossible to determine exactly how it started,” Mieth said.

Investigators from the fire marshal’s office and the town’s fire department do know that the fire began on the first floor of the two-story home, which was assessed at $257,300.

Colleagues and friends of Allen, a professor and chairman emeritus in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, have launched a Go Fund Me campaign. The appeal cites how Allen has “infused so much of his time and energy into the department and the campus.”

“He had a huge impact on our students and helped shape the department in its formative years,” said current department chairwoman Stephanie Shonekan.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com