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Overnight Fire That Destroyed Historic House in West Fairlee Deemed Suspicious 

  • Firefighters knock down a fire at an abandoned residence on Route 113 in West Fairlee, Vt., in the early morning hours on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. Authorities said the fire is considered suspicious. The home was considered a historic landmark. (Briana Paronto photograph)

  • An 1874 photograph of the Alvah Bean house in West Fairlee, Vt. Bean served as the town clerk from 1847-1891, and also served as a state representative and probate judge. An early morning fire on Aug. 10, 2018, destroyed the unoccupied building. (Courtesy University of Vermont Silver Special Collections Library)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2018

West Fairlee — Briana Paronto was asleep early Friday morning when her grandmother, who is visiting from Florida, woke her and her husband.

It was immediately clear why.

“Everything looked pink outside,” Paronto said in a phone interview on Friday afternoon.

An uninhabited historic home across the street from Paronto’s house on Route 113 in West Fairlee was destroyed in what investigators are calling a “suspicious” fire that began sometime before 2:45 a.m.

It was the second such fire in little more than a year that has occurred on the property, 739 Vt. Route 113, which belongs to Randall Bishop, 60, of West Fairlee.

At times the flames rose above the height of Paronto’s three-story home, she said. At one point, she feared they might jump the road.

Outside, “it felt like a sauna,” she said.

When she called 911, she told the dispatcher to send “multiple fire departments.”

Though firefighters from eight towns — West Fairlee, Fairlee, Thetford, Corinth, Strafford, Vershire, Lyme and Bradford, Vt. — responded, they were unable to save the building, according to a Friday afternoon news release from the Vermont State Police.

“The structure was so involved in fire, that it was nearly destroyed by the time the fire department arrived,” according to the release.

The amount of damage made it difficult for West Fairlee Fire Department Lt. Will Ordway to determine the fire’s source, the release said. He contacted the Vermont Department of Public Safety Fire and Explosions Investigation Unit for assistance.

Investigators from the Vermont State Police and Vermont Division of Fire Safety responded, but they also struggled to find a cause and classified it as “undetermined/suspicious.” The investigation is ongoing.

There were no injuries in the fire, but the building is considered a total loss.

Bishop’s phone number, as listed in the phone book, has been disconnected.

The town property record values the 1.2-acre parcel at $66,500. Paula O’Brien purchased the property in 2012 for $26,500. O’Brien was Bishop’s late partner, one of the fire investigators, Det. Sgt. Michael LaCourse of the Vermont State Police said in an email.

The home originally was built in the mid-1800s by Alvah Bean, who served as the town clerk from 1847 to 1891, and also served as a state representative and probate judge, said Jim McDade, a member of the town’s historical society.

“He just about did everything,” McDade said.

Bean died in 1892, and his wife, Pheobe, died in 1911, according to a listing of the town’s cemetery plots available online. They had no children, McDade said.

In the decades since, the home fell into disrepair. It was not connected to electricity and didn’t have heat, McDade said.

He said he went inside in recent years and it was “uninhabitable.” He didn’t think it would have been safe to climb the stairs.

“It probably could never have been rehabilitated,” he said.

This marks the second time a building on Bishop’s property has been struck by fire recently. In June 2017, a mobile home that sat behind the former Bean home was destroyed in a blaze that police deemed “incendiary/suspicious.”

That fire, which displaced Bishop and his dog, and left his cat dead, remains under investigation.

At the time, West Fairlee Assistant Fire Chief Lisa Ordway told the Valley News, “It’s been quite a while since we had a structure fire that extensive. At least eight or nine years.”

State police ask those who were traveling on Route 113 at the time of Friday’s fire to contact LaCourse at 802-748-3111.

In addition, the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program offers a reward of as much as $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in a fire caused by arson.

The tip line can be reached by calling 1-800-32-ARSON (1-800-322-7766).

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.