Rochester, VT House Fire, Feb 1921


Two Others May Die as the Result of a Vermont Man Lighting His Stove With Gasoline.

RUTLAND, Vt., Feb. 1.--Six persons, four of them small children, lost their lives, two other children were probably fatally burned and their parents were seriously injured in a fire at Rochester, Vt., twenty miles from here, that destroyed the ramshackle house in which they made their home, at 5 o'clock this morning.

The dead are:

Lewis Martel, aged 70 years;
Arthur Martel, aged 21 years;
Earl Martel, aged 9 years;
Catherine Martel, aged 7 years;
Chester Martel, aged 5 years;
Weller Martel, aged 4 years.
Henry Martel, the father of the children, escaped with burned hands. Mrs. Martel, mother of the children, was badly burned, and her condition, coupled with the shock, is extremely critical.

So far as can be learned, Henry Martel, father of the family, arose about 5 o'clock to light the fire. It is thought that he must have poured gasoline into the stove instead of kerosene. Two containers were in the back part of the house and he may have picked up the wrong one in the darkness.

Just what happened may never be known. The shack had but one entrance at the rear and only two small windows, one of which was boarded up. The door was soon blocked by flames and the place became a roaring furnace, shutting off the escape by the windows. The children were sleeping soundly in bed when the fire broke out, as was their elderly grandfather, and the older brother, Arthur, at home for a short visit with his parents from Rochester, where he was employed.

The Martel family had bought a farm close by, on which the house had been burned nearly a year ago. Because of the high cost of building materials they decided to move into the shack as a temporary arrangement until the price dropped.

The New York Times, New York, NY 2 Feb 1921


More Info

Thanks so much for posting this Linda. This story is about my husband's grandfather, Flynn Martell, who was one of only 3 of their 17 children who lived to adulthood. 6 of their children had already died. Then 8 children died in the fire, along with the mother and grandfather.

I found another version of this story in a book:

Quarterly of the National Fire Protection Association, Vol 14, p 383
Fires in Which There Was Loss of Life.
These notes, taken from newspaper reports, are intended to point out typical conditions under which loss of life has occurred that they may be known and guarded against.

Rochester, VT, Feb 1, Six persons were burned to death and three others died later as the results of burns received during the fire which destroyed the house of Mr. Henry Martell.
The Martells lived on a farm where the house had been destroyed by fire several years ago. The family had moved into a small single story structure with one room downstairs and a low blind attic. There was only one door. The windows in the attic, used by the family for sleeping quarters, were nailed into their frames.
When Martell arose this morning he set about building a wood fire, and because of the extreme cold sought to quicken the fire with kerosene. In his hast he failed to notice that he lifted the gasoline by mistake. In another instant the small building was a mass of flames. Martell rushed from the house and jumped into a watering-trough. He died later as the result of burns and exposure.
Mrs. Martell and eight children were asleep in the small blind attic. The only exit was through the lower story. Mrs. Martell escaped, but in reentering the house to rescue two of her children received burns which later proved fatal. One of the children she rescued died of burns, the sole survivor was the baby who escaped almost unhurt.