Stratham, ME – A devastating fire caused by a propane explosion at a 16 Cortland Ave. townhouse early Wednesday morning claimed the life of local real estate broker Lori Breard.
Breard, 56, was managing broker of The Masiello Group’s Exeter and Portsmouth offices. She was severely burned in the fire that broke out at about 2:30 a.m.
Initially, she was taken to Exeter Hospital, but was later taken to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she died not long after her arrival, according to Stratham Fire Chief Stan Walker.
Her co-workers at The Masiello Group’s Exeter office describe Breard as a friend to everyone.
“Every time she walked in the room people would smile. No matter what kind of a day she was having one would only assume it was the greatest,” said co-worker Jane Persch. “She was always upbeat and positive and we never saw her down.
“She loved hard, she worked hard, she played hard and she makes us want to be better people,” Persch said.
Co-workers said Breard had a tremendous sense of humor that was infectious to everyone around her.
“People always wish in their time that they’ve touched people and made an impression and she touched more people than most people do and it makes me want to be better,” said realtor estate agent Christine Baker.
Sally Hall, Breard’s mentor and original real estate manager, said Breard was held in high esteem throughout the real estate community.
“She was just a perfect manager,” Hall said. “A better manager than I could ever dream of being.”
Her coworkers agreed that above all else the one thing she was the most proud of was her daughter, Hallie, 27.
Her coworkers said the outpouring of sympathy and support from across the Seacoast has been overwhelming since the news of her death.
On Wednesday, colleague Barbara Lemieux of the Seacoast Board of Realtors offered condolences.
“Everyone in the real estate community is in shock,” Lemieux said. “Lori would light up any room she entered. She had a smile for everyone, each and every day, even the cloudy days.”
Lemieux said Breard served on the board of directors and was honored by her peers in 2008 as Realtor of the Year.
“I feel that we’re all really lucky to have had her in our lives,” Hall said.
Breard was the only one inside the 16 Cortland Ave. townhouse at the time of the fire Wednesday.
Neighbor Scot Bradstreet, of 19 Cortland Ave., said another neighbor known as “Kimberly,” who lived at the adjoining unit, 18 Cortland Ave., helped pull Breard from the fire.
Neighbor David Maloney, of 10 Cortland Ave., said he awoke to a noise and, when he looked out his window, saw an orange glow coming from the backyard of the townhouse.
Police Chief John Scippa said Breard was alive when first responders arrived on scene.
Scippa confirmed late Wednesday afternoon that investigators had determined the cause of the blaze was a “propane explosion, followed by a rapidly burning fire.”
Initial reports indicated that Breard may have been in the basement investigating an odor of gas, but Scippa couldn’t confirm exactly where she was at the time of the explosion.
The early morning blaze was so large that it drew between 75 and 100 firefighters from across the Seacoast.
Walker estimated flames extended nearly 20 feet in the air when crews arrived. Intense heat caused the siding of adjacent homes to melt and the fire lighted up the skyline. The adjoining unit 18 Cortland Ave. was also completely leveled, and debris was strewn across the back lawn of the building.
“It happened fast and had to have had a lot of fuel to do that,” he said.
Walker said a preliminary investigation into the explosion indicates there may have been a prolonged leak of propane inside the house. He said the propane tank attached to the home was buried in the side yard.
Walker said the explosion occurred within the townhouse.
“It will ignite when it reaches a certain level of concentration,” Walker said.
While able to reflect on the fire on Thursday, Walker said the major obstacle firefighters had while battling the blaze was the intense heat and amount of fire that spewed from the structure.
“It was evidently fueled by some propane, which makes matters worse,” he said.
Another obstacle involved the fact that a Stratham pumper truck failed as fire crews were dousing the blaze with water. Crews had to pump water from a nearby pond, he said.
Walker said the response from local firefighters and neighboring communities was fast and well coordinated. However, nothing could have changed the ultimately fatal outcome for the homeowner, he said.
“She was in a terrible state when she got out of the house and our response to scene was very fast,” Walker said. “There wasn’t anything in my control that we could’ve done differently.”
Several firefighters received minor injuries and were treated on scene, said Walker.
The fire remains under investigation by the state fire marshal.
Fire crews remained on scene for much of Wednesday assisting with cleanup. All that remains at the site is charred framework of the townhouse and its foundation.