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Investigators Back in Woodstock; Pizza Shop Office Is Focus

  • Guava, an arson dog, receives pets from arson investigator Tim Angell, of St. Johnsbury, Vt., while Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Steve Otis, of Westminster, Vt., helps him cool off outside the scene of the Woodstock fire on Thursday, July 19, 2018. As an arson dog, Guava is able to detect 17 accelerants at minute levels, items Guava sniffed will be sent to a lab for further testing. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lea O'Toole helps her daughter Grae sort through the items that survived the Woodstock fire that claimed Grae's apartment on Thursday, July 19, 2018. "This is what 28 years comes too, a little pile in the parking lot," Lea O'Toole said. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Grae O'Toole walks down the steps of her former apartment with the second of three armfuls of items that survived the fire in Woodstock, Vt., on Thursday, July 19, 2018. O'Toole was woken by the smoke alarms on Monday morning and dialed 911. Among the items that survived were her birth certificate, passport, social security card, and journal. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2018

Woodstock — State fire investigators on Thursday returned to the scene of a blaze that destroyed part of a Central Street building, displacing two residents and multiple businesses early this week.

Police spent much of the day combing through debris on the first floor of 47-55 Central St., where it’s believed the fire broke out inside an office used by Pi Brick Oven Trattoria.

“What we do, as fire investigators, is we get all of the debris out and then reconstruct the scene and try to get it back as close to pre-fire conditions as possible,” Detective Sgt. Todd Ambroz of the Vermont State Police said during a break on Thursday afternoon. “That way, we could look at the burn patterns and the fire flow. It speaks volumes.”

Officials don’t yet know the cause of the fire, but Woodstock Fire Chief David Green on Tuesday said the blaze was being investigated as suspicious.

It could be weeks before answers are available, though, as a crime lab must analyze samples taken from the building, Ambroz cautioned.

Signs were posted outside the building offering a $6,000 reward for information on the fire, a tactic that Ambroz said is used to bring witnesses forward.

“We put those up because we’re trying to generate leads to figure out if anybody saw anything,” he said. “That’s really what we’re trying to drum up.”

Police will ultimately look to determine whether accelerants, or chemicals that could speed up a fire, were used to ignite the blaze. They’ll also review witness statements and the route the fire took through the building for clues, Ambroz said.

“It’s the totality of the circumstances, it’s not just one single thing,” he said. “Obviously, we have a lot of work to do.”

The fire, which began around 3:30 a.m. on Monday, caused about $1 million in damage to the building, which is divided into a wooden and adjoining stone stone structure, according to the Woodstock Fire Department.

Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, offices of the Vermont Standard newspaper and an apartment that housed two people were destroyed in the wooden portion of the building, while the Standard’s production area and Collective, a craft gallery, received minor damage in the stone portion.

On Thursday, employees at the Standard worked diligently inside temporary offices at the Norman Williams Public Library to meet a noon deadline for the weekly paper.

“People think I’m crazy when I say it’s been very exciting,” said Phillip Cabot Camp, Sr., the paper’s longtime owner and publisher. “It’s not because we got burned down or put out of business temporarily. We stayed in business, we went to press (and) that’s exciting.”

Camp said the effort was proof that his employees could beat the odds to put out a paper without formal offices, not just once but for a second time.

The Standard’s offices, which were then located in West Woodstock, were destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. Facing that crisis, staffers worked to put out a weekly edition.

The front page of Friday’s paper was largely devoted to covering the fire and thanking the community for its response.

“I’m so grateful that people who live around here, both business people and individuals, are who they are,” he said. “They have rallied to our cause without being asked, with no hope or expectation of reward.”

Woodstock business also rallied to take care of the employees at Pi, offering some of them jobs as the restaurant remains closed, said Jess Abston, the owner of Who is Sylvia? clothing store, which is located across the street.

“That’s the great thing about a small community. When something like this happens, people really step up,” she said, adding the loss of any employer is felt throughout downtown.

“It’s definitely something that’s going to affect the downtown economy for a while, not just this season but probably for years to come,” Abston said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.