Fire Damages Old Windsor Home
Homeowner Roy Alarcon consoles a family friend after they spoke with Windsor Fire Chief Mark Kirko at the scene of a house fire on Route 5 in Windsor on Thursday. Firefighters from eight towns battled the blaze at the 1915 two-story home. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
Hartland firefighter Matt White takes a break after working with a crew inside a two-story house fire in Windsor, Vt., on August 29, 2013. Due to the way the 1915 building was constructed, the fire quickly spread from the basement to the roof. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
Windsor — A nearly 100-year old home on Windsor’s Main Street was damaged by fire Thursday morning after a fluorescent light malfunctioned, causing flames to travel through the walls from the basement to the first and second floors and into the attic.
No one was in the house at the time of the fire and there were no reported injuries.
A neighbor, who also happened to be a Windsor firefighter, called in the fire at 10:30 a.m. when his wife noticed smoke billowing from the basement. Firefighters brought the blaze under control within 30 minutes, Windsor Fire Chief Mark Kirko said. But smoke billowed out from all floors for several hours as firefighters worked to dampen hot spots in the walls.
Traffic along a stretch of Route 5 was diverted around the American Precision Museum, which is just down the street from the house, for several hours to accommodate firefighters on the scene.
About one hour after firefighters had arrived at the house, a man in a purple shirt ran up Main Street and across the front lawn yelling, “Holy ----, that’s my house!”
Kirko, who was standing nearby, approached the man, Roy Alarcon, and pulled him aside and asked, “There’s no one else in the house, right?”
“No,” Alarcon responded.
As Kirko spoke to the man, a woman with blonde hair approached. Alarcon stepped over a yellow fire hose and embraced her.
“I can’t believe this,” Alarcon said as he looked toward his damaged home. The woman declined to give her name, but said she is a family friend who has been living at the home temporarily.
According to town records, Alarcon bought the house in 1996 and the property is assessed at $187,130.
Approached for comment, Alarcon said he wasn’t up for talking.
“I’m just totally overwhelmed,” he said as he sat on the curb across the street looking at his home.
Kirko said he spoke to the homeowners, and they told him that they had been at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center with their son, who was having a medical procedure, when they heard about the fire and returned to Windsor.
After a preliminary investigation, Kirko determined that the fire was caused after the ballast in a ceiling-mounted fluorescent light failed. The ballast regulates the lamp’s electrical current. Kirko said the family told a firefighter Thursday afternoon that they were disconnecting the clothes dryer in the basement, when they detected an odd smell.
“That’s what happens when ballasts go bad,” Kirko explained. “It’s an obvious odor that’s not normal. It doesn’t always cause a fire, 99 percent of the time, the ballast will go out and people will see that it goes out.”
Many of the belongings inside the home were salvaged. The kitchen ceiling received enough damage that it and the floor above it were sagging, Kirko said. And there’s likely a “fair amount” of smoke damage. But he thinks the house will be livable again after repairs.
A boom was heard by a neighbor before firefighters arrived, but Kirko said he thinks the sound was just an aerosol can exploding.
The exterior of the house, painted yellow and pink with blue trim and a pink framed screen door, was still intact. The exterior looked undamaged, except for the broken windows and several holes in the roof that firefighters made to release smoke.
The house, which was built in 1915, has a “balloon frame construction,” Kirko said, which allowed the fire to travel from the basement, through the walls, into the attic, and back down the walls through a chute that holds wires and pipes. Newer homes are designed and built without such a chute in order to contain the fire.
Eight different fire departments responded on Thursday, including Hartford, Claremont and Ascutney. Firefighters didn’t clear the scene until about 3 p.m.
“The crews are knocking it down the best they can, it’s just a stubborn fire,” Kirko said.
The fire also traveled along the wall that surrounded the chimney, which runs through the middle of the structure. But the majority of the open flames were contained to the basement, Kirko said.
At one point, two firefighters were lifted on a ladder to the building’s roof, and began hacking at it with a pick, knocking down shingles and pink insulation. Another firefighter used a chain saw to cut a square opening.
Only a few feet away at the house next door, Jackie Young sat in a white rocking chair while her son, Michael, sat on the front steps.
Young said she returned home Thursday morning and saw heavy smoke coming from the basement of her neighbor’s house. She ran inside to get her husband, Richard Kelly Young, who is a Windsor firefighter.
Young said she doesn’t know her neighbors well.
“These people are always doing things to their house, either painting or working on their garden,” said Jackie Young, who was holding a black radio scanner in her lap. “I feel so bad for them. They’re hard working people.”
A few minutes later, a firefighter threw a metal cabinet out a second floor window, which landed on a bed of pink flowers.
Soon after Alarcon, the owner, arrived on the scene. A young woman wearing a T-shirt and shorts ran up to the home and frantically asked a firefighter what happened. She put her head in her hands and collapsed into the arms of the firefighter. A short while later, Alarcon could be seen on the curb across the street with the young woman and two other people.
Alarcon would not say how many people live in the home.
The fire drew a crowd as neighbors stood on the closed-off streets.
Among them was Roxanne Wright. She said her family lost their home to a fire when she was a little girl. She lost everything, including her clothes. “I wouldn’t wish (a fire) on my worst enemy,” Wright said.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.