Fire officials: No evidence blaze that destroyed River Dave’s cabin was intentionally set  

  • David Lidstone, 81, talks by the side of the Merrimack River in Boscawen on Saturday morning. Jonathan Van Fleet—Monitor staff

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    In this photo provided by the Canterbury (New Hampshire) Fire Department, smoke rises Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, from the burnt remains of a cabin in Canterbury, N.H., inhabited by 81-year-old David Lidstone, who for 27 years has lived in the woods of New Hampshire along the Merrimack River in the once small, solar-paneled cabin. “River Dave," as he's known by boaters and kayakers, has been jailed since July 15 after being accused of squatting for 27 years on the private property. The Canterbury fire chief said there will be an investigation into the fire. (Canterbury Fire Department via AP)

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    In this photo provided by the Canterbury (New Hampshire) Fire Department, smoke rises Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, from the burnt remains of a cabin in Canterbury, N.H., inhabited by 81-year-old David Lidstone, who for 27 years has lived in the woods of New Hampshire along the Merrimack River in the once small, solar-paneled cabin. "River Dave," as he's known by boaters and kayakers, has been jailed since July 15 after being accused of squatting for 27 years on the private property. The Canterbury fire chief said there will be an investigation into the fire. (Canterbury Fire Department via AP) Canterbury, N.H. Fire Department

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    This undated photo provided by Jodie Gedeon shows the shack that David Lidstone, 81, has built and lived in for nearly three decades in the woods of Canterbury, N.H., growing his own food and cutting his firewood. He's now jailed after not complying with a court order to leave, and there's a growing petition to just let "River Dave" live out his days off the grid. (Jodie Gedeon via AP) Jodie Gedeon

Concord Monitor
Published: 8/10/2021 9:00:25 AM
Modified: 8/10/2021 9:00:29 AM

The mysterious fire that destroyed River Dave’s woodland cabin last week appears to be accidental, Canterbury fire officials announced Monday.

Last Wednesday, the home that off-the-grid hermit David Lidstone, 81, built on a riverside woodlot in Canterbury, burned to the ground while he was held in Merrimack County jail in Boscawen on a civil contempt citation. Vermont-based property owner Leonard Giles, 86, wanted Lidstone off the land.

The Canterbury Fire Department said in a statement that there was no evidence that the fire was set intentionally or that a crime had taken place, and “nowhere near enough evidence to consider criminal charges.”

“The investigation, led by an investigator from the N.H. State Fire Marshall’s Office, indicates a probability that this fire began as a result of unintentional/ accidental means,” Canterbury Fire officials said.

Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache said a representative of the property owner had been at the cabin less than an hour before the fire.

The fire marshal’s team is still investigating potential causes, including whether metal cutting saws used on the cabin or disassembled solar panels created sparks.

“Earlier in the day, one of Mr. Giles’ sons had been on site to start dismantling the cabin, but was not there when the fire occurred,” said Lisa Snow Wade, a Concord attorney representing Giles. Wade said Lidstone’s personal belongings had been moved to a covered area after he was jailed on July 15, in anticipation of hiring a contractor to take down the cabin.

Shortly after Lidstone went to the Merrimack County jail, Giles and his son contacted an excavation company called SKR Site Services to demolish the cabin, employee Holly Frederick said.

The landowner had initially sought the company’s services to bring down the cabin in 2020.

Frederick said SKR Site Services declined the job after learning more about Lidstone’s situation.

“The whole situation is messy and it’s sad, and we didn’t want to be involved in demolishing that building,” she said. “That man is a veteran and we didn’t want to be involved in destroying his home.”

On Aug. 4, the Canterbury Fire Department received multiple calls reporting heavy smoke in the area. Canterbury Fire, along with firefighters from Boscawen, Concord, and Loudon, responded with all-terrain vehicles and a floating pump that pulled water from the Merrimack River to prevent the fire from spreading.

Lidstone is staying with friends after being released from jail on Thursday, when a judge ruled he was less likely to return “to this particular place in the woods” after the fire. Offers have poured in from sympathetic landowners willing to provide a new place for him to live.

He said over the weekend that he had no intentions of rebuilding his razed cabin at the same location, but wants to prove that he has a right to the land, which he wants surveyed.

“My main intention now is just to prove that I’m right and they’re wrong,” Lidstone said on Saturday. “They had absolutely no right to burn my property.”

Gamache said the fire marshal still has interviews to conduct before the investigation is completed




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