CONCORD — They met at a dance in Cambridge more than 60 years ago and twirled to the Big Band music they both adored. Ronald and Margaret Jones married a couple of years later, settled down in a Cape-style home on Nancy Road in Concord, and raised a son. They loved ski trips, Crane Beach in Ipswich, and, always, that music, said Ronald’s brother, Laurie Jones, especially a “jumpy number” called “In the Mood.”
Ronald, 89, and Margaret, 83, are presumed to have been killed on Valentine’s Day when a three-alarm blaze gutted their home just after 3 a.m., leaving only the blackened chimney and a garage standing. Concord firefighters sifted through the smoking rubble until about 11:30 a.m., when they removed two bodies, which have not yet been positively identified.
“It was quite a shock, and goodness gracious, I don’t know,” said Laurie Jones, 83, who said he had just seen his brother Thursday. “I feel so bad.”
The deaths were the seventh and eighth fire-related fatalities this year, said State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan. Investigators had not determined the cause of Friday’s fire.
“We have started off with a number of very serious fires since the first of the year,” said Coan, who said winter often brings a spike in blazes because people are trying to keep their homes warm with space heaters, wood stoves, or fires in fireplaces. An electric baseboard heater was identified as the origin of a fatal fire in Cambridge this week that left a woman dead.
Having working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms, he said, is key to staying safe, as is properly disposing of ashes in metal containers far from anything flammable.
“It doesn’t appear that we have an early spring,” said Coan. “I hate to think that this trend is going to continue. But a few minutes of preparation can make a world of difference if a fire should occur.”
At around 3:13 a.m., said fire officials, a snowplow driver called 911 to report a fire on Nancy Road; by the time firefighters arrived, the home was almost entirely engulfed.
“There is a real possibility that that fire burned undetected for an extensive period of time before the arrival of the Fire Department,” Coan said.
The two bodies were discovered fairly close together in the basement of the home, said Concord Fire Chief Chief Mark Cotreau, but the house was so badly damaged that it was difficult for investigators to determine whether they tried to flee the flames or whether they were in the basement when they were overcome. The first floor of the house had burned away completely.
Neighbors said they woke up to an inferno, flames shooting 40 feet into the night air.
“The sky was orange; it was blazing,” said David Goranson, 66, who has lived next door for more than 40 years. “We saw the flames. We hoped against hope they got out.”
Laurie Jones said his brother had recently begun suffering from memory loss, and his sister-in-law had hurt her back in a fall and had been mostly homebound for several years. Their son, Eric, had lived with them for his entire life, but died unexpectedly in December, he said.
“They were very, very sad; I would say depressed,” said Jones. “They just couldn’t get over it.”
Despite their faltering health, the Joneses were fixtures in their neighborhood, where they had lived since 1955. Before she hurt her back, Margaret took lots of long walks with her son; Ronald was often out working in his garden, and still mowed his own lawn with a push mower. Neighbors up and down the street said that Ronald Jones carried dog treats in his pockets, and was always offering to walk people’s dogs.
“He was sort of like the dog whisperer,” said Sandra Robichaud, who lives on the other side of the Joneses with her husband. “He always had a biscuit ready for them.”
Laurie Jones said the couple had their own dogs years ago, but could not stand the heartbreak of losing another pet.
Ronald, he said, served in the US Air Force after World War II, and worked for years as a salesman for Simplex Wire & Cable Company before retiring about 20 years ago. Margaret, he said, once worked as a secretary. They were both very fit, he said, and loved fresh air.
Jones said he saw the couple Thursday, when Ronald Jones briefly went missing after taking his car out in the snowstorm. Ronald apparently got disoriented, said his brother, and ended up in a snowbank in Carlisle. He was not injured, but his wife was distraught by the time he made it home. Laurie Jones paid for the tow truck, and figured he would call his brother on Friday.