WESTMINSTER -- Three families living in a multi-story structure at Basin Farm escaped injury during a three-alarm fire Tuesday morning, and it took about 75 firefighters from at least six departments roughly two-and-a-half hours to control the blaze.
Westminster Fire Chief Cole Streeter said his department received the emergency call at 7:30 a.m. and personnel from Bellows Falls, Saxtons River, Putney and Walpole and North Walpole, N.H., also responded. He said tankers from Alstead, N.H., and Dummerston were dispatched and the same may have gone for Chesterfield, N.H., and Springfield.
The house is owned by The Twelve Tribes organization, whose members tend the farm fields. The Twelve Tribes, founded by Gene Spriggs, is an international confederation of religious communities.
Streeter said the structure is likely a total loss, though some items may be salvageable. By about noon, firefighters were clearing things out of the building and Streeter said the fire was probably "wood stove- or chimney-related."
"It's fire season, unfortunately," he said. "When it gets cold, people are doing all they can to stay warm."
Every section of the structure had severe damage and the middle third of it was almost completely caved in.
Aram Reilly, who lived in the building, said a member of the organization first spotted the fire and called 911. He said three families lived there. He said he was unsure of what the next step would be and was just glad everyone was safe.
"We'll work through it," he said while standing on a wooden porch toward the back of the house. "We own the farm, so we're not going anywhere."
Reilly said members of the organization work on the farm, growing certified organic food that is sold at local establishments.
Streeter said he called Bazin Brothers Trucking for help removing some of the building's charred remains. A Bazin Brothers worker was seen using an excavator to take out tattered pieces of the building and its contents and lay them in a scrap pile. Firefighters also chipped shingles off the roof near the chimney and Streeter explained it is standard procedure to do so with any material that may fall on its own while firefighters work in and around a building to remove anything salvageable.
The building was left a scarred and blackened shell, while the frigid temperatures froze the water used by the fire departments to battle the blaze and forming large icicles that hung off the roof and in window frames. The floor of the back section of the building, which Reilly said was an addition to the original house, was saturated in at least an inch of water.
Westminster Firefighter George James said this fire hit him especially hard because he father grew up in the building.
Volunteers, members of the Westminster Fire Auxiliary and the American Red Cross brought doughnuts, sandwiches and hot coffee for firefighters at the scene. According to a statement from the Red Cross, Tuesday's fire was its 10th response in the first seven days of 2014. Two Red Cross disaster services volunteers were on scene and offered to meet with those affected by the fire and make sure their emergency needs are met. Traditionally, help with temporary lodging and assistance with food and clothing is offered, but it appeared the residents had other places to stay.
According to the statement, the Vermont & the New Hampshire Upper Valley American Red Cross was called upon in the wake of disaster 179 times last year and 90 percent of those calls were related to house and apartment fires. Just more than halfway through its current fiscal year, the organization is matching last year's historic rate, which was 70 percent greater than seen in this region four years ago.
The Red Cross is always in need of new recruits and anyone interested can go to www.redcross.org/vermont to learn more. To help people affected by fires and devastating natural disasters, a donation can be made to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Visit www.redcross.org, call 802-660-9130, ext. 111, text REDCROSS to 90999, or mail a contribution to American Red Cross, 29 Mansfield Ave., Burlington, VT, 05401.