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Flooding Hampers Fairlee Firefighters

Fairlee — A woman who was frying chicken in her home off Route 244 yesterday went outside to examine the flash flood sweeping away her family’s driveway and returned indoors to find a grease fire growing out of control in the kitchen, according to authorities.

Fairlee Fire Chief Larry Farnham said his department received the call from Jenn Piper, of 318 Vermont Route 244, at 5:50 p.m.

The volunteer fire department, as well as the Upper Valley Ambulance Service, arrived about 10 minutes later, only to find that Piper’s home, which sits at the top of a hill, was separated by three to four feet of standing water left behind by the flood.

“It kept us from crossing with our trucks,” Farnham said. “Bad enough that there’s a fire, but that the road blew out and slowed us from getting up there doesn’t help.”

Farnham said his crew hauled two water lines and a smoke ejector uphill on foot. He said they didn’t need to use any water because Jenn Piper’s husband, Matt, and his brother Brian had already extinguished most of the fire with a 25-foot garden hose. Firefighters were able to help clear out most of the smoke.

“Those were smart-thinking people,” Farnham said.

After surveying the damage, Farnham said kitchen appliances were destroyed and that most of the main floor and loft area of the house had sustained smoke damage.

Jenn Piper said the incident began around 5:30 p.m. She was frying chicken in her kitchen when the wave of flash flooding began on Roue 244. Farnham said area brooks gathered too much water too quickly.

The culvert located in the family’s front yard couldn’t stand the sudden deluge and overflowed, carrying off most of the gravel in its path.

Matt Piper ran outdoors, his wife said, and tried to fill in the widening ditches with dirt. To get a look at the damage, Jenn Piper said, she briefly stepped away from the kitchen, but left the stove on.

“It was just a river flowing through my driveway,” she said of the rainfall.

But when Jenn Piper returned indoors, she found “flames rolling over the stove and up through the microwave above.”

“You just don’t realize how quickly it gets out of hand,” she said.

Piper said she ran outdoors to get her husband’s attention. He ran inside, grabbed Fred, the family bunny rabbit, and handed the animal to their 6-year-old son Parker. Then he told his wife to grab their younger boy, Beckett, 4, get out of the home and move the car to the bottom of the hill.

Matt Piper then called his brother, while his wife dialed 911.

Jenn Piper and her children waited below, watching the flood overtake their driveway until the firefighters arrived.

By 7:30 p.m., Farnham said his crew had controlled the scene and were ready to clear out.

“They might not want to stay here tonight,” he said. “It’s smoky and smells bad in there.”

Afterward, Jenn Piper stood with her parents while Brian Piper and her husband surveyed the water damage.

“I’m very glad that everyone was OK,” she said. “Definitely changes the way you think about things, that’s for sure.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.

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