Fire Destroys Yankee Village Motel #ascutney #VT #vermontstandard #fire #firefighters

Monday April 25, 2016
Ascutney VT

A brush fire that was started by an eight year old boy playing with a cigarette lighter quickly spread to the Yankee Village Motel in Ascutney, Vt on Monday morning April 25, 2016.  The five alarm blaze completely destroyed the structure. All occupants of the motel got out safely. The American Red Cross-Vermont and New Hampshire Upper Valley said 70 fire fighters responded and one was treated for an eye injury.

Around 11:20 a.m. motorist spotted the smoke coming from behind the 19 room motel and pulled into the Tribute Artistry Monuments parking lot, adjacent to the motel and asked owner, Aaron Fitzherbert to make the 911 call.

According to Ascutney Volunteer Fire Association Chief, Darrin Spaulding within a few minutes of fire fighters arriving on scene, "it was not a brush fire, it had already gotten into the motel, up into the soffits, and already into the roof line and into three of the middle rooms."

The motel is owned by Mike Patel and his family. They got out safely but their home adjacent to the motel office has been gutted. "Yes, we were insured" said Patel. He and his wife have owned the motel for 10 years and had just completed extensive renovations. The 7,600-square-foot motel was a total loss. Patel said four of the 19 rooms were occupied.  Linda Nordman from the American Red Cross-Vermont and New Hampshire Upper Valley said they were helping with the five displaced families.

"It was a young child that found a lighter that started the fire" Chief Spualding said. When asked to identify the child, Spaulding stated that he did not know his name but said "he admitted it to me" but wasn't sure if the child and his mom were staying at the motel. The child told Spaulding that he found a cigarette lighter behind the motel and "touched some leaves on fire." Authorities say the child is cooperating.

Getting water to the fire was a problem. Weathersfield does not have a water hydrant system in place so dry hydrants were used. A 10,000 gallon buried tank was initially used but quickly became exhausted. Water was trucked in from a dry hydrant in Claremont NH and two dry hydrants in Weathersfield: one on Wheeler Camp RD and one off Thrasher RD. Water was trucked to the scene until about 7:30 p.m..

"Because of the dry conditions, of where the juvenile started the fire, it traveled the whole backside of the motel in a very short period of time, got up into the roofline, burned all the siding off, went into 3-4 rooms when we arrived and it was already in the attic  3/4 of the way down. The fire walls had been breeched from the work going on over the last 20-25 years, so the fire walls were not intact" said Spaulding.

The fire spread to Martin Street, up the hill and behind the motel, about 0.2 miles from the Weathersfield School, through the woods to the pavement. Some pine trees become involved but were quickly doused. The three or four houses on the street were not damaged, nor was the house to the north of the motel blaze, the home of Helen Smith. Neighbors came out with a garden hose and buckets of water protecting Ms. Smith's home until fire fighters could take over.

The Weathersfield School, which is located just to the north of the motel was "sheltered in place" during the day and had student and staff remain inside as the smoke was very thick at times. School Principal released this message on their Facebook page:
"Due to a fire at the Yankee Motel, the power has been on and off at the Weathersfield School, which also affects phone lines. Your children are safe here at school. The Weathersfield School will be sheltering in place until further notice on advice of Ascutney Fire Chief, Darrin Spaulding. Superintendent Baker has advised us to cancel all after school activities, including meetings, sports, PAWS, Homework Support, and TIPS. We are hoping to dismiss at the regular time, but are awaiting further directions from the Incident Command Post. Some roads are closed and buses will be seeking alternate routes when we are able to dismiss. As details unfold, we will use this way of communication to update you."

The power was cut over the concern of the north end power line falling onto one of the fire trucks. The power company arrived, disconnected the line then re-energized the line to the school. The Springfield Fire Chief, Russell Thompson and Weathersfield Town Manager, Ed Morris worked with school officials to get the busses re-routed to pick up the students. The fire on Martin Street was very close to school property (about 0.2 mile) and efforts we made to get students safely home without hampering the fire fighters dealing with the Martin Street blaze.

Fire companies from as far south as Putney, Vt, Unity, NH to the east, Hartford, Vt and Lebanon NH to the north, and Plymouth and Ludlow to the west responded.

Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Dave Sutton, a fire investigator out of the Rutland State Police barracks met with the boy and his mother, walking behind the burned out structure to where flames were seen earlier in the day. Sutton said he would be preparing his report on the fire but whether to prosecute or not would be left up to the Weathersfield Police Chief, who was not at the fire scene.

Late in the afternoon, a local excavator was called to the fire and broke through the office area aiding the fire fighters in getting water to the last remnants of fire just under the roof.

The message to the public says Chief Spaulding "it is too dangerous to be burning and teach your kids not to play with matches or lighters." Many of the fire companies responding to this fire have been called out to 18 fires in six days. This was Ascutney Volunteer Fire Association's structure fire in those six days.

More images from the fire:

See the story in this week's Vermont Standard on news stands Thursday!

Video was posted to The Vermont Standard

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