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UMass student helps prevent potential laundromat fire

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Staff Writer
Saturday, March 07, 2020

AMHERST — An Amherst restaurant employee making the last delivery on her shift early Friday morning prevented a possible catastrophe when she observed smoke filling a laundromat on College Street.

Shortly after 2 a.m., Amelia Porter, a University of Massachusetts junior kinesiology major who works for Sunset Grill & Pizza, said she was passing by Amherst Laundromat at 326 College St. when she noticed the smoke.

“I turned around and pulled into the lot, didn’t see any flames, but the room was definitely full of smoke,” Porter said.

When she rolled down the vehicle’s windows, Porter said she smelled something akin to burning rubber, determined that wasn’t normal and called police.

Firefighters got to the laundromat at 2:26 a.m., said Amherst Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson, and aggressively attacked the potential fire by taking down the door to the business and approaching the dryer that was the source of the smoke. The dryer had towels inside it, but there was no active fire and no damage to the building from the smoke, according to the fire department.

Nelson said the early notification was key to having the incident end well. “None of the adjoining businesses sustained any damage,” Nelson said.

Had a fire started, the plaza, which includes Kelly’s restaurant, Mom’s House Chinese Market, Summerlin Floors and Talon Furniture, may have been threatened by fire quickly, Nelson said, due to the open attic space above the individual businesses. The cause of the incident remains under investigation.

Nelson said laundromat owners tend to be good stewards of their businesses, understanding that regularly removing lint is an important safeguard, since laundromat dryers have what he dubs “lint traps on steroids.”

A fire damaged the Hampshire Athletic Club in Amherst in November and started in or near a dryer that had problems previously. In 2013, the Norwottuck Shops in Hadley was leveled by a fire that began behind a bank of dryers. However, Nelson said people questioning whether laundromats are fire-prone should know that it is rare for firefighters to be called to them.

“They tend to do a good job of cleaning the dryers and lint traps, and the fact that we don’t go to a lot of those is an answer in itself,” Nelson said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.