BRATTLEBORO — The Brattleboro Fire Department has confirmed that two people died and one was injured in a Tuesday night fire at Mountain Home Park.
Cass Bradbury, who lives directly across the street, said she called 911 and watched the fire from her window.
Bradbury said she knew the male victim well.
"He would always show up and shovel my driveway and mow my lawn. He just helped me out. I won't know what to do without him," said Bradbury. "He's the best. He used to tell me I was the prettiest person. He'd come over all the time. He'd collect junk and make money that way. He would always show it to me."
Bradbury has lived in the park for 16 years and said the victims lived there longer.
A female neighbor who asked not to be identified also spoke highly of the man.
"He was everybody's buddy in the neighborhood. He helped everybody," she said. "It's a real tragedy."
Just before midnight, the West Brattleboro Fire Department arrived first on the scene at 3 Record Drive for a report of a structure or "mobile home" fire. The caller told dispatch that the fire was visible and people were perhaps still inside the engulfed structure. Brattleboro firefighter Rusty Sage, and one of the four fire investigators at Brattleboro Fire Department, said he believes the two occupants who did not survive died before departments arrived on the scene, but rescue attempts were made by the other individuals living at the home.
"Two other occupants of the building in the downstairs apartment attempted to rescue the people that were upstairs but were unsuccessful because of the heat and smoke," said Sage. "One of those two (that survived) received second-degree burns on his head, neck and face and went to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital."
Capt. Len Howard told the Reformer that one dog died due to the fire and two cats are unaccounted for.
Engines 3 and 4 and Rescue 2 of the BFD responded on a first alarm and upon arrival of Engine 4 from Station 2 at 11:53 p.m., first responders reported a mobile home well involved. Firefighters were met outside by two occupants of the home who stated that two people were still inside.
A hand line was stretched for an exterior attack, but the crew could not make entry into the home due to the amount of fire and heat. Engine 3 arrived shortly after that and more lines were stretched.
"There was significant volume of fire that we had to deal with when we arrived and that takes multiple lines off the truck and water when it's that large of a fire," said Sage.
After about an hour-and-a-half of battling the flames, the fire was declared under control at 1:14 a.m. When it was knocked down, a search was conducted and the two deceased victims were located.
"It's indescribable," Sage said, explaining what it's like when they are unable to rescue occupants. "I'd rather talk about when you can save a life. We continue to do our job as we would any other time and we will do so in a safe manner. Obviously, when there's someone we know we can save, we're going to take more risks; unfortunately, when there's someone we can't, we're not going to put ourselves in more danger."
The mobile home was destroyed in the fire and is considered a "total loss," according to Howard. The cause of the fire, which appears to have started in a bedroom, remains under investigation by the Brattleboro Fire Investigation Team, the Brattleboro Police Department, the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit and the Vermont Division of Fire Safety.
According to Sage, part of the investigation involves debris removal, using fire patterns to determine the direction in which the fire traveled and reviewing witness statements, photographs of the scene and autopsy reports.
"We'll put that all together and come to a final conclusion," Sage said.
The Brattleboro Fire Department was assisted at the scene by the Keene, N.H., Fire Department's Rapid Intervention Team, Rescue Inc., members of the Brattleboro Police Department, Brattleboro Utilities Division and the Red Cross.
Sage said all departments did a "great job under a stressful situation," and that every member of the responding departments returned safely.
While two occupants were able to escape the fire, two others died and neighbors are retelling what they witnessed and how the tragedy affects their neighborhood.
Gary Washburn, a neighbor who lives on a street directly behind the residence, said he woke up at about 11:45 p.m. to the sound of water splashing on the metal sidings of the burning home.
"I knew there was something funny about the sound," Washburn said. "The whole place was a constellation. The roof was all flames shooting up."
One of the victims spent a lot of time under the deck, according to Washburn.
"He might have been recycling, chopping scrap metal into pieces," said Washburn.
Another neighbor described the fire as "pretty nasty."
"We saw smoke. They said flames were 40 to 50 feet high. I just feel bad for the people. They lost what they had," he said. "We heard the chainsaw. They must have been cutting down what they could."
The Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers have met with the surviving residents and have ensured everyone has a safe place to sleep and has food, clothing and other essentials, stated a news release from the American Red Cross. "Over the next several days, Red Cross client casework volunteers will stay in contact with the family and provide referrals, as they begin their road to recovery."