2016-04-26 / Video

Boy allegedly starts fire that levels Ascutney hotel

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By Tory Jones Bonenfant
By Cameron Paquette

WEATHERSFIELD — Most of Yankee Village Hotel in Ascutney, Vermont was leveled due to a fire started by a young boy Monday morning. There were no injuries.

According to Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding, the boy admitted to finding a lighter and setting some dry leaves and brush on fire behind the hotel. The Ascutney Volunteer Fire Department, working together with the state police, found that the juvenile allegedly “told someone” he had lit the fire, “and then he told me,” Spaulding said.

He said he did not know the boy’s age, if he was staying at the motel or where he was from, but said that he was school-aged. The boy was with his mother, Spaulding said. The name of the boy has not been released.

Damage to the motel is estimated at $1 million, and that could be a low estimate, Spaulding said. The motel was insured.

Clouds of smoke drifted north from the smoldering structure at 5380 Route 5 as onlookers stared in disbelief.

Fire departments from Windsor, West Windsor, Ascutney, Claremont, Hartland, Weathersfield, Springfield, Reading, Ludlow, Cornish, Proctorsville, Rockingham, Charlestown, Lebanon, South Woodstock, Walpole, Plainfield, Meriden, Westminster and Chester were on scene along with Vermont State Police and Golden Cross ambulance.

Spaulding said they came from as far south as Putney, as far north as Lebanon, as far east as Unity and as far west as Plymouth and Ludlow.

The Red Cross responded with aid for firefighters and people who were displaced.

According to hotel owner Mike Patel, there were “three or four” occupants at the time — all of whom were evacuated. Patel said the hotel was insured.

Aaron Fitzherbert, owner of neighboring Tribute Artists to the south, called in the fire at about 11:30 a.m. after a passerby alerted Fitzherbert to smoke coming from behind the hotel.

“It travelled really fast,” Fitzherbert said of the fire, which ate through a thick blanket of fallen leaves behind the hotel before spreading up the back of the building’s siding and into the attic of the main structure.

“The fire breaks are all broken so it’s spreading right through there,” said Spaulding as the structure became fully involved around noon. Firewalls in the motel had been breached and were not intact due to work done in there over the past 20-25 years, Spaulding later said.

State police and firefighters diverted traffic north and south of the fire. As of about 3 p.m., the Springfield fire chief was also working with the town manager to get buses to the school one at a time, and not hamper firefighting efforts still ongoing.

Spaulding said the firefighters had trouble getting water to the scene, as Weathersfield has no water supply in town. They were bringing water in from a nearby underground tank and from Plains Road, Clay Hill Road, Wheeler Camp Road and other sites to fight the fire.

Although no neighboring structures were evacuated, the northerly wind caused concern for neighbors, and the fire reached the pavement of the road just behind the hotel.

Country Estates Mobile Home Park owner Steve Smith and his daughters, Chelsea and Olivia Savage stopped to help Helen Smith, no relation, who has lived next to the hotel at 5410 Route 5 for 22 years.

“I bless you. All three of you,” the elderly woman said as Smith and his daughters used hoses to wet her lawn and treeline.

Smith said his daughters saw the smoke from a distance and decided to investigate, stopping to help Smith when they could see just how fast the fire was spreading.

“It was coming fast, so we started wetting the bank,” Smith said.

Spaulding said state fire safety officials were there and talking to the boy, but that he did not know if the juvenile would be charged. That would be up to the state police, he said.

The Ascutney Fire Chief reminded the public to “listen to what the forest fire wardens are telling people — that it is too dangerous to be burning,” and to remind children not to play with matches or lighters.

In the past six days, area fire departments have responded to more than 18 calls, though this was the first structure fire, according to Spaulding.

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