WEST BRATTLEBORO -- Fire officials said a Western Avenue house that caught fire late Monday night is a "total loss."
Demolition crews from Triple T Trucking and David Manning Inc. used excavators to take down the remnants of the West Brattleboro home owned by Peter Diamondstone and his wife, Doris Lake, Tuesday afternoon.
Diamondstone is a former candidate for governor and otherstatewide offices.
Although the fire was under control at about 2 a.m., emergency crews were still on the scene Tuesday afternoon, more than 14 hours after the initial fire, attempting to clear the scene. Brattleboro Fire Chief Michael Bucossi said the fire isn’t deemed suspicious and that what remained of the building needed to be torn down because of safety concerns. The cause of the fire hasn’t been officially determined, but Diamondstone told the Reformer he believes a pile of oily rags and paint stored outside the home spontaneously combusted, igniting the building.
The couple was in the process of painting the exterior of the house and oiling the wooden shingles, Diamondstone said. Diamondstone said he and his wife were in bed when they realized they hadn’t had dinner and went into the kitchen to cook something. As he was cooking the steak, Lake said she smelled something burning and turned to Diamondstone to ask what he had done to their meal.
Lake said she then heard a "whoosh" and Diamondstone said he heard a "crackling crash." Outside the window, Lake said she saw orange and red flames licking up the side of the house.
"I grabbed the dog, the leash and told Peter to call 911 and we got out of there," Lake said.
All three were able to safely escape without injury. "If we had stayed in bed my children would have all been orphans," Diamondstone said.
A cottage the couple planned to use as a rental also caught fire and burned to the ground. The fire is just the most recent disaster for the couple. The cottage was nearly swept away by the massive flooding from Tropical Storm Irene last August.
"The water lifted it up off its foundation and if it weren’t for a cherry tree, the cottage would been swept down to the Connecticut," Diamondstone said.
Diamondstone and Lake had to use most of their retirement savings to pay for repairs to the cottage and had planned to purchase fire insurance for their home once it was rented. They never got that opportunity.
Bucossi said when the first crew arrived on scene it found "heavy fire involvement in the rear of the home." A second alarm was called in less than five minutes after and then a third alarm because of the enormity of the fire and the danger it presented, he said. "For the first attack we brought two lines through the front door but they were quickly pushed back out by the heat and size of the flames," Bucossi said.
Without a way to combat the fire from inside, the fire chief was left with only one option, to contain it from the outside.
The Brattleboro Fire Department was supported by a crew of more than 30 emergency responders including Rescue Inc., and fire departments from Putney and four New Hampshire departments; Chesterfield, Hinsdale, Keene and Spofford, he said. Fighting the fire from the outside presented other problems and dangers. "We had a large concern about several propane tanks scattered about the lawn," Bucossi said.
As the temperature rose to triple-digits the gas inside one of the tanks expanded and the relief valve shot out excess pressure and gas, which ignited. "I don’t want to think about what would have happened if the tank had caught fire," Bucossi said. "Luckily we were able to cool that tank and the others before anything else happened." Lake and Diamondstone said they couldn’t thank the firefighters enough.
"They worked so hard and diligent," Lake said. "We really appreciate all the care and respect they showed us."
As the demolition crew used excavators to pull down their home, Lake, Diamondstone and their family members, their hands blackened by charcoal, picked through the few mementos, pictures and heirlooms that weren’t consumed by the fire.
"We’re so grateful no one was hurt and that we got to live in this house for 44 years," Lake said.
Traffic on Route 9 was blocked in both directions Monday night and opened to a single lane until Tuesday afternoon. Diamondstone and Lake said they’re unsure where they’ll live while they try to get back on their feet but their children have offered up their homes.
Family members and friends are trying to figure out how to help Diamondstone and Lake financially recover from the damage the fire caused.