Residents from Valley Cares safe after fire forces evacuation

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TOWNSHEND — Valley Cares was evacuated Monday evening after a lightning strike caused a fire in the attic of the assisted living facility.

Just after 5 p.m. 39 residents were transported down the road to Leland & Gray Union High School after the fire alarm and sprinkler system alerted staff to the fire in the attic.

Valley Cares Executive Director Susanne Shapiro said she did not know the condition of the building, though she said the facility would remain closed until a safety inspector could tour the damaged section of the building Tuesday.

"Everybody is safe. The staff did exactly what they were trained to do," Shapiro said. "Most of our residents are able to go home with family, and for anyone who can not go home, we will find a place for them to stay tonight."

Townshend Volunteer Fire Department Safety Officer Dale West said the call came in just after 5 p.m., and the blaze was quickly toned to a three-alarm fire due to the large number of residents who had to be evacuated.

West said the sprinkler system helped control the fire and it was quickly extinguished.

A portion of the building did sustain significant water damage and West said a state safety inspector would walk through the structure Tuesday before anyone would be allowed back into their apartments.

"It could have been much worse," West said. "It's always hard to get to a fire in an attic, but the sprinkler system saved the day and they're going to have to start cleaning up tomorrow."

The Townshend Volunteer Fire Department was assisted by the departments from NewBrook, Brattleboro, Grafton, Saxtons River, South Londonderry, Jamaica and Winhall.

Down at Leland & Gray, residents waited patiently in the gym annex while Valley Cares staff attempted to reach nearby residents who could come pick up their elder family members.

Carolyn Garland came over from Newfane to pick up her mother, Edna Dean.

Garland commended the Valley Cares staff for keeping everyone safe and making sure the residents were comfortable during the transition.

"I'm taking mom home for a sleep over," she said as she walked her mother to the car and drove off.

In 2007, a 28-unit assisted living facility and 24-unit independent living building was opened on the site on Grafton Road. In 2013, West River Valley Senior Housing was expanded to include 12 additional apartments in a newly-constructed wing off of the assisted living building.

A New Year's Eve sprinkler malfunction caused the evacuation of the assisted living facility. Valley Cares Executive Director Susanne Shapiro said a pipe burst at around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014, and sent about 1,000 gallons of water into an apartment on the second floor.

As water seeped through the walls and dripped onto the first floor all of the residents were transported out of the building during what Shapiro called a very cold night. No one was hurt in that incident and most of the residents were able to return to their apartments by the end of the night. Some of the occupants spent the night with family and a few people who could not return to their homes spent the evening at Grace Cottage Hospital.


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