Blaze Levels Britton Lumber Sawmill in Fairlee

Sunday, March 29, 2015
Fairlee — A four-alarm fire leveled the sawmill building at the Britton Lumber plant at 7 Ely Road off Route 5 on Saturday night. No injuries were reported.

Public safety officials received a 911 call about a potential fire at the Fairlee sawmill at 8:29 p.m. Saturday, and Thetford Volunteer Fire Chief Chad Whitcomb was the first responder to arrive at the scene. He called in a second alarm at 8:35 p.m.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years with the department,” Whitcomb said.

A fourth alarm was sounded by 9:11 p.m.

Fire crews from at least a dozen area departments responded to the scene.

John Renfrew, chief of the Newbury, Vt., Fire Department, was in front of the old Con-Val building helping with the tanker relay system that was drawing water from Lake Fairlee and also from a hydrant near Leda’s Pizza on Route 5. He said units were called from Hartford north “and everything in between.”

Orford firefighter James Carter was directing traffic at the intersection of Route 5 and Ely Road, at the entrance to the lumber company. He said the building was fully involved when he arrived. “We’ve been to several big fires this winter,” he said. “This is about the third big one we’ve had.”

The Hanover and Hartford departments responded with ladder trucks. Firefighters from Fairlee, Newbury, Vt., Orford, Bradford, Vt., Lyme, Strafford, Wentworth, N.H., and Warren, N.H., responded as well.

State highway trucks also responded to spread sand on the roadways.

The two-story sawmill building measured about 50 feet wide by 250 feet long and was made of wood, steel and concrete.

The fire sent flames high into the air and thick plumes of smoke filled the clear night sky.

By 11 p.m. the structure was reduced to rubble and a few framing members.

Doug Britton, of Norwich, who sold the business in January 2014 to Robert Moses, of Lebanon, was standing outside the smoldering building. “It’s emotional,” he said, adding that about 20 people worked in the sawmill building.

Jay Barrett, the longtime chairman of the Fairlee Selectboard, lives across the street from the fire scene. “I was about to go to bed and I saw a horrendous glow,” he said.

He said the last time he had seen this much fire equipment in Fairlee was in May 2007, when the Colby Block, a landmark building in Fairlee Village for about 100 years, burned.

“It’s amazing how quickly so many people showed up,” Barrett said. “It makes me proud.”



Valley News correspondent Bob Hookway contributed to this report.

Correction

Doug Britton is the former owner of Britton Lumber Company. Public safety officials received a 911 call about a potential fire at Britton Lumber Company in Fairlee at 8:29 p.m. Saturday, and Thetford Volunteer Fire Chief Chad Whitcomb was the first responder to arrive at the scene. He called in a second alarm at 8:35 p.m. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name for Britton and incorrectly reported how authorities learned of the fire.






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