State investigators say BF fire 'suspicious'

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BELLOWS FALLS — A fire that gutted a large apartment building under renovation early Sunday morning has been deemed suspicious, and investigators are seeking more information about the cause of the fire.

State fire investigators, Bellows Falls Village Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis and the Bellows Falls Village Police were on the scene Monday trying to determine the cause of the fire at 9 Barker Street.

McGinnis said the fire is definitely suspicious, and investigators believe it started right inside the first floor doorway. "They've ruled out anything accidental," he said. "We're pretty sure it was set intentionally."

No one was injured during the fire, which brought firefighters from several area communities to fight it and keep it from spreading to surrounding structures.

For the past four years, Antonio Goncalves and his son Jon have been renovating the building "as they've had the money," in the words of McGinnis.

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The three-apartment building had been vacant since Goncalves bought it four years ago, McGinnis said, and the father and son worked as they could renovating it, getting it ready for tenants. No one was living in the building, and it had no electricity.

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"He was remodeling it at his own pace," McGinnis said of Goncalves, who lives just down the street from the fire-gutted building.

A $5,000 award has been posted by the Vermont State Police for information about the fire, McGinnis said.

While the investigation is being conducted by Investigator Stan Baranowski of the Vermont Division of Fire Safety and Vermont State Police Sgt. Michael LaCourse, McGinnis said their report will be forwarded to the Bellows Falls Police for possible charges.

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"People can talk to either, whoever they feel comfortable with," he said. Bellows Falls Police Sgt. Mario Checchi is working on the case, he said.

Helping to fight the fire at the scene were fire departments from Westminster, Springfield, Putney, as well as North Walpole and Walpole, N.H. Rockingham and Alstead, N.H., fire departments covered the Bellows Falls station during the fire.

Anyone with information about the fire is urged to call the Bellows Falls Police at 802 463-1234, or its TIPS line, 802 463-2373, or the state arson line, at 1-800-32ARSON.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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