Subzero Temperatures Hamper All-Day Firefighting Effort as Former Ascutney Lodge Burns

Friday, January 09, 2015
Brownsville — Dozens of firefighters braved subzero temperatures on Thursday to fight a fire that gutted the base lodge of the former Ascutney Mountain Resort.

Frigid weather froze hoses and wore down firefighters, hindering efforts to extinguish the flames. It took an intense nine-hour battle that began prior to dawn before West Windsor Fire Chief Mike Spackman called the blaze under control.

“We are spent,” Spackman said around 11 a.m. just after neighboring fire departments were called in to assist.

The lodge, which was not in regular use at the time of the fire, was a total loss, Spackman said. (View video of the flames at this link.)

Windsor Fire Chief Mark Kirko said “it’s a good possibility” that some of the building could have been saved if not for the poor weather conditions.

“The cold temperatures definitely hampered the operations and slowed things down quite a bit,” said Kirko, who worked with Spackman to manage the scene on Thursday.

No one was injured in the two-alarm blaze, though a few firefighters were treated for fatigue and dehydration by medics at the scene.

No one was transported for treatment.

“Firefighters can only do so much to fight a fire,” Spackman said. “They are only human.”

The cause of the fire was unknown on Thursday, but state fire investigators and police troopers were on site inspecting the interior and exterior of the building.

Electricity was active in the building to operate a cellphone tower and water system components in the basement.

The system pumps water to the Mountain’s Edge Condominiums and residences on Ski Tow Road. There was no word on Thursday evening if that water connection was interrupted.

Thick smoke billowed out of the center of the lodge for the better part of the day, rising in a large plume.

Flames crackled as they gradually ate away at the structure, moving from east to west.

Firefighters from Windsor and West Windsor manned hose lines for several hours in the morning. Hanover, Lebanon, Hartford, Hartland and Springfield, Vt.’s fire departments were called in to provide fresh manpower and additional equipment.

Ice wreaked havoc on equipment, particularly hoses.

“If water wasn’t running constantly through the hoses, they would freeze up in, like, three minutes,” Kirko said. “It has been a grueling, long process.”

The valves on at least one of West Windsor’s fire engines froze up as well, causing some damage to the truck. Estimates were not available on Thursday.

A few area residents walked down to the lodge to view the damage. Though the ski resort hasn’t been active since 2010, they said it was still disappointing to see the lodge go.

“It’s sad to see the mountain close, let alone this,” said Rick Vitagliano, 55, of Windsor, who grew up skiing at the resort in the 1960s and worked there in the 1980s. “It’s just sad.”

Nathan Marden used to snowboard at the mountain several years ago. Marden, of West Windsor, said a friend from Hartland called him Thursday morning and asked him if he could see smoke rising from the lodge.

Affirmative, Marden told his friend.

“It is kind of crazy,” the 21-year-old said while looking at the charred remains. “I would have never imaged this.”

Kathy Frazer, owner of the Brownsville General Store, which sits down the hill from the lodge, said customers expressed sadness throughout the day about the fire.

When she posted pictures on the store’s Facebook page, dozens of community members commented.

It’s “goodbye to an old friend,” one person wrote.

Another, “Such a shame.”

Frazer, too, lamented the loss.

“I learned to ski up there as a teenager,” Frazer said. “It is kind of sad just being here and not having (the mountain) running. But now this.”

West Windsor Selectboard member Tom Kenyon, who works in the dispatch office at the West Windsor Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire at the base lodge did cause communication troubles in town on Thursday.

The cell tower on the base lodge, which provides AT&T mobile phone service, was likely damaged in the fire, he said.

Representatives with Green Mountain Power and FairPoint Communications both arrived on scene. It was unclear on Thursday night if the cell signal was restored.

Kenyon said the town and the owner of the resort, MFW Associates LLC, the principal lien holder on the property, who assumed ownership as the only bidder at an auction of the resort’s assets in November 2013, would be in touch about the site’s future.

At a special Town Meeting in October, residents voted to purchase the base lodge, other buildings, an access road and the resort’s water system — all for $1 each.

The town also pushed to purchase 470 acres of forest and former ski trails to preserve the area for outdoor recreation.

“We received permission from the voters to continue negotiations,” Selectboard Chairman Glenn Seward said. “And those are ongoing.”

Asked if Thursday’s fire would affect the sale, Seward declined to comment.

West Windsor has not yet closed on any part of the deal, according to town officials.

When the flames were largely extinguished in the late Thursday afternoon, the items along the perimeter of the building looked as if they were frozen in time. A picnic table was preserved in more than an inch of ice, and an American flag on the back of a fire truck looked as it was made of glass.

“(Today) was all about the temperatures, temperatures, temperatures,” Spackman said.

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