BENNINGTON -- Residents were paying their respects in the aftermath of a fatal fire that began Saturday morning on Lincoln Street.
Despite the efforts of firefighters and three passersby who were first on the scene, the fire claimed the life of Scott Moffitt, 36, a well-liked local man and Special Olympian who resided at 134 Lincoln St. with his parents, Patricia and Larry Moffitt Sr.
State police said the 911 call came in at 10:47 a.m. Saturday. When members of the Bennington Fire Department arrived, they found smoke and flames coming from all sides of the two-story house, located near the intersection with County Street, less than a block away from the River Street firehouse.
Patricia Moffitt suffered severe burns and was reported in critical condition Sunday evening by officials at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. Authorities said Larry Moffitt Sr. was treated at the scene by Bennington Rescue for a leg injury he sustained while jumping from a second-floor window.
A makeshift memorial was set up outside the remains of the residence on Sunday. Anthony Morabito said many members of the community had come by to pay their respects while he planted tulips and irises there in the early afternoon.
Passersby responded after seeing smoke
Three local men, Travis Bentley and brothers Tyler and Erik Prue, were at the scene Saturday and said they had been driving down the road when they saw smoke.
"We saw a lady yell, ‘Call 911,' so I called 911," Erik Prue told the Banner. "She was trying to go back in the house. As she was trying to go back in we stopped her, she said, ‘My baby's in there.'"
Tyler Prue said he kept Patricia Moffitt from re-entering the house, while Bentley grabbed a ladder to help a man dangling from a second-story window. The ladder did not reach so Bentley said he jumped to grasp Larry Moffitt's leg and they both fell.
The men said they heard two screams from inside the residence and then silence. Heat and smoke prevented them from entering.
Bennington Fire Department responded to the scene within minutes of the call with mutual aid from Bennington Rural and Pownal Fire, while departments from Shaftsbury and North Bennington remained on standby. Police said crews acted quickly to extinguish the fire to prevent it from spreading to neighboring residences.
Fire officials said they witnessed visible fire from the rear of the structure upon arrival, and a large volume of heavy, black smoke from the open front door. Repeated attempts at entry were made but crews were unable to complete a search because of intense heat and smoke.
Once inside firefighters found Scott Moffitt deceased on the first floor.
Crews remained at the fire scene for several hours. Both County and Lincoln streets were reopened to the public at 7 p.m. Saturday.
An outpouring of sympathy and support emerged immediately after the tragedy from friends, family, and neighbors, at the scene and on the Banner's Facebook page, where Meghan Corcoran posted that Scott Moffitt had been looking forward to a Special Olympics basketball tournament in Burlington Sunday.
"He just said Friday that he hoped it was sunny and didn't rain. ... Today is a beautiful sunny day and there's no doubt in my mind it's Scotty shining down on us," Corcoran wrote.
Morabito, at the memorial Sunday, described Scott Moffitt as a nice person who got along as best he could and always helped his mother.
Fire Chief Steve Crawford requested an origin and cause investigation from the state police and Vermont Division of Fire Safety. That investigation Saturday had not determined a cause of the fire, but it was not labeled suspicious.
The house was considered a total loss, and in addition two dogs were lost in the fire. A white cat was missing.
There were no reported injuries to first responders. Bennington Police Officer David Rowland and state police are continuing the investigation.
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