A fire in a trash can caused the evacuation of the Laconia Circuit Court Monday afternoon. Meredith’s Vikki Fogg said she opened the door to a ground floor restroom to be met by flames. She told her grandson Nathan, 7, to go tell the bailiff conducting security screenings at the courthouse entrance that there was a fire.
“It was really going,” said bailiff Bill Barnard who grabbed a five-pound dry chemical extinguisher and doused the fire. Court was in session at the time the fire broke out and security personnel had smelled smoke and were searching all three floors of the building for the source when Fogg opened the door to the first-floor restroom at the end of the hallway between the offices for the probate and family court and the circuit court.
The fire triggered the building’s smoke alarms but not the sprinkler system. Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said his department responded to the fire alarm activation and were advised en route to 26 Academy St. there was smoke in the building, and that security personnel were looking for the source.
“Any time you have a report of a fire in a courthouse it’s of concern. It’s a government building and you have to think whether something else might be going on. Someone trying to create a diversion to get someone out or a disgruntled person trying to lash out,” Erickson said.
Courthouse staff directed people to leave the building after smelling smoke and then joined them gathering in the rear parking lot as firefighters arrived. Fans were set up to help clear the air. Damage was limited to the ruined trash can and to the mess made by the dry powder from the chemical extinguisher.
Security cameras are mounted throughout the building and bailiffs were confident that recorded video images coupled with observations made by people in the courthouse would lead to the source of the fire.