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Plainfield Fire Under Investigation



Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Plainfield — The New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s office is investigating the cause of a fire that destroyed a Boston newspaper publisher’s custom-built log home in a remote part of 
Plainfield.

T wo investigators sifted through a pile of debris Monday afternoon at the home of Melvin Miller, the founder, publisher and chief editor of the Bay State Banner, an influential weekly paper in Boston’s African-American community.

Miller’s Ladieu Road home burned to the ground Sunday night.

“At this point, we haven’t ruled anything out,” State Fire Marshal Investigator Tom Schutzius said of potential causes.

Plainfield Police Chief Paul Roberts and Plainfield Fire Chief Frank Currier declined to speculate on the cause. Currier said electricity was running to the house.

“We have a house that is vacant in the woods that caught fire,” Roberts said from the scene on Monday.

The investigation, which could take several days to complete, is ongoing.

Miller arrived at the scene around 11:15 a.m. on Monday with his brother to get a look at the destroyed home.

“I designed and built this house,” said Miller, who is in his mid-80s and said he was experiencing “great sadness.”

“When you buy a house, that’s one thing, but when you build it and design it, it becomes very personal,” Miller said.

The property’s caretaker, Dan Lebrun, of Lebanon, said on Sunday night that Miller rarely used the house recently, though it had been in good condition.

The home, which was unoccupied at the time of the fire, was on the market for $1.3 million, according to Sotheby’s International Realty, which has an office in Hanover. According to Realtor.com, it was originally listed in June 2013 for $1.45 million.

Built in 1990, the 5,000-square-foot home, furnished with a steam shower and weight room, sits at the end of an unpaved driveway stretching for more than a half-mile off Ladieu Road.

The parcel includes 249 acres, according to Plainfield assessing records, and Miller paid about $18,000 last year in property taxes. He was current on his taxes, a town official said.

“Because of illness, I stayed in Boston more than I would have preferred, and reaching a ripe old age, I said ‘this is hard to do,’ and that is why I decided to sell the house,” Miller said.

Miller said his primary residence is in Plainfield and he is registered to vote in town. Voting records indicate he regularly voted in general elections by absentee ballot, according to Plainfield’s town clerk.

All that remained of the house on Monday afternoon was the stucco and stone foundation spanning the perimeter of the home and a massive chimney standing some 50 feet high.

Smoke and steam from the smoldering rubble rose within the foundation, and charred pine logs from the cabin structure were strewn about.

Most of the home’s contents were unrecognizable, though weight-room equipment, kitchen appliances and a cupcake pan stood out in one corner of the home.

The fire left much of the grass surrounding the property singed.

About a half dozen firefighters put out hot spots during the day on Monday.

“We came back with an engine because it had rekindled,” Currier, the fire chief, said, noting that was not unusual.

Getting water to the secluded property proved troublesome Sunday night, but Currier said the home was destroyed long before crews arrived.

“If I had all the water in the world, there was nothing we were going to do for the building,” Currier said. “It was just so intense.”

In January, the Boston Globe reported that Miller had put the Plainfield home up for sale as collateral to help pay back $200,000 in loans the then-struggling Banner had received in 2009 through an arm of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

The Boston Local Development Corporation helps spur employment opportunities by providing business loans, according to its website. The Boston Redevelopment Authority oversees operation of the program.

The BRA told the Globe in August that the Banner had made all interest payments on the loan since Feb. 1, the Globe 
 reported.

Kate Norton, press secretary for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, said the city hadn’t yet been formally notified of the fire.

“Until we receive any sort of confirmation, we will have to reserve comment for the time being,” Norton said.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.