Cause of Britton Lumber Sawmill Fire Left ‘Undetermined’

Tuesday, April 07, 2015
Fairlee — Fire investigators with the Vermont State Police said Monday they are unable to determine the cause of a weekend fire that destroyed Britton Lumber Company’s sawmill late last month, but the blaze is not considered suspicious.

“Because you have so much destruction, it is really hard to determine,” said state police Det. Sgt. David Sutton, the lead investigator.

Each fire is given one of four classifications — accidental, incendiary, natural or undetermined — and Sutton said he has classified the cause of the fire at Britton Lumber, which employs 55 people, as undetermined.

The sawmill was in operation until about 1 p.m. on March 27, and the fire was first noticed around 8:30 p.m. on March 28.

Based on information he has received thus far, Sutton said the fire is not considered 

“There is nothing that has come across my plate as far as someone intentionally doing this,” Sutton said.

Britton Lumber’s insurance company has brought in an engineering firm to further investigate. Unless new information is presented that leads investigators to an exact cause, the fire’s classification will remain undetermined, Sutton said.

The company’s sawmill employs 20 workers and at least another dozen employees’ jobs are based on the sawmill’s production.

After the fire, Britton Lumber owner Robert Moses agreed to pay all workers an additional 40 hours.

And on Monday, Moses said he agreed to keep all workers on the payroll for an additional week, through Friday.

“One week was just not enough time to process our loss,” Moses said of the 

The employees who have had their regular jobs interrupted are performing various maintenance jobs at Britton Lumber, which is still operating at “full steam ahead,” selling lumber that had already been processed through the sawmill, as well other operations, Moses said.

The forest products and building materials business was founded in Hartland in 1946 and moved to Fairlee in 1971. Britton Lumber has two divisions: manufacturing, which produces boards with a sawmill, dry kilns and planer mill, and wholesale distribution, which sells building materials.

The sawmill produced about 10 million board feet of eastern white pine per year. The logs were sawed into board to be dried, planed and sold.

Moses said it “looks like” Britton Lumber has secured rough lumber so it can continue using its planer mill. The deal hasn’t been finalized, so Moses said he couldn’t discuss 

That would allow the company to keep its customers supplied while “we figure out what we are doing,” Moses said.

“We are just trying to figure out what the next steps are,” he said. “We have a lot of different avenues that we are pursuing.”

“There are a lot of moving parts. But I think what we have accomplished is kind of remarkable,” he added.

Moses said the 1.6 million board feet’s worth of lumber that is still stacked behind the rubble of the sawmill has been purchased.

Several byproducts that come from processing logs in the sawmill, such as bark, are sold to various businesses. But because the sawmill is no longer in operation, bark, for example, is no longer being produced.

Norm Longacre, owner of Longacre’s Nursery Center in Lebanon, said he has purchased bark from Britton Lumber for about a decade to make bark mulch. Longacre said his garden center already has this summer’s supply in hand.

If the Britton Lumber sawmill is back up and running by October, Longacre said he will continue to purchase bark from the company, one of two he buys from.

“If they don’t rebuild, we will have to find another buyer,” Longacre said, adding that he has been pleased with the product he gets from Britton 

It has allowed him to make a “consistent product,” he said.

The Upper Valley community has shown overwhelming support in the hours and days following the fire, Moses said.

“We are so grateful for the offers of help from not only friends and strangers, but also from our fellow sawmill operators here in Northern New England,” he said. “The sense of community has been heartwarming and gives us strength and energy to focus on the future.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at or 603-727-3248.

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