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Video: Fire Devastates Industrial Park

  • Kenny Keith, co-owner of the buildings destroyed by fire on Harrison Avenue in White River Junction, Vt., walks past his property on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Keith, of Hartland, Vt., owned the buildings near Ratcliffe Park comprising office, garage and storage space. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Three buildings near Ratcliffe Park in White River Junction, Vt., are ablaze early in the morning on Feb. 28, 2017. (Matt Dunbar photograph)

  • Firefighters respond to a fire, which destroyed three buildings near Ratcliffe Park comprising office, garage and storage space, on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Three buildings near Ratcliffe Park in White River Junction, Vt., are ablaze early in the morning on Feb. 28, 2017. (Matt Dunbar photograph)

  • Firefighters respond to a fire, which destroyed three buildings near Ratcliffe Park comprising office, garage and storage space, on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 28, 2017

White River Junction — A massive fire early Tuesday morning destroyed three buildings in a small industrial park next to railroad tracks in White River Junction, and a fourth appeared to sustain heavy damage.

One or more fuel containers located in a truck garage exploded around 3:30 a.m., adding significantly to the flames that threatened a variety of businesses housed in six buildings on the property, according to Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney.

Authorities said no one was hurt.

Estimates varied as to the number of businesses and employees directly affected, but one of the property owners, Kenny Keith, said there were four to five companies and roughly 40 workers displaced.

“It sucks,” Keith said, standing outside the ruins of his former office building that afternoon. “You can’t keep a good face on it.”

“Yesterday we were up in that office that no longer is there,” his son and business partner, Jared, added. “How do you explain that?”

The 8.5-acre property lies just across the Connecticut River from Route 12A in West Lebanon, and is part of the Nutt Lane neighborhood, which is separated from downtown White River Junction by a set of train tracks.

The property, which is owned by Keith and three partners through White River Investment Properties LLC, was rented by various trucking companies, as well as by Agfa Graphics, Solaflect Energy, a propane company and a paper pulp processing company, among others.

Matt Dunbar, 35, who was sleeping in the cab of his parked truck outside the building on Harrison Avenue, off Nutt Lane, said he was awakened by the fire and called 911.

Dunbar, of Hartland, said he heard an explosion, which authorities first attributed to a 275-gallon heating fuel tank and then to one or more 55-gallon containers of waste oil that they said the trucking garage used for fuel.

“It was a loud bang,” Dunbar said at the site.

Hartford firefighters responding to the scene upgraded the call to a second alarm at 3:52 a.m., and had the fire under control around 5:30 a.m., Cooney said. They continued to battle hot spots through the afternoon, and planned to maintain custody of the property Tuesday night, the fire chief said.

Firefighters from Lebanon, Hanover, Norwich, Hartland, Woodstock, Plainfield, Windsor and Thetford responded.

Cooney said around 5 p.m. that state fire investigators had ruled that there was too much damage to determine the fire’s cause, although they believe the blaze originated near the back of the garage.

Insurance investigators will arrive today and make their own determination as to the cause, Cooney said.

The cleanup slowed traffic, and the nearby railroad line was closed for hours.

An office building, a trucking garage, and a manufacturing facility used by Solaflect to make solar trackers were razed by the fire. A fourth building, which is used to process paper pulp, was damaged, Cooney said.

The office building, which took up two stories and roughly 4,700 square feet, was occupied by Keith’s business and a communications contractor, among other companies’ offices.

Various small trucking businesses, as well as the same communications company, Eustis Cable, operated out of the single-story garage of about 4,900 square feet.

Keith, a Hartland resident, said there were more than 100 electrical transformers stored onsite by a supplier for Green Mountain Power that he believed had been destroyed as well.

Keith said it was too early to estimate the cost of repairs, though he said he planned to meet with insurance agents today and hoped to rebuild.

The town of Hartford assessor’s office lists the replacement cost of the destroyed office building where Keith’s business and others were housed at about $518,000.

The garage was assessed at $141,000, and the third, southernmost structure was worth about $152,000. White River Investment Properties bought the parcel and buildings for $1.56 million in 2012.

Bill Bender, president of Solaflect, estimated that the destruction of the solar tracker factory, which was insured, had cost the company between $500,000 and $1 million in spare parts, manufacturing equipment and inventory.

“We were kind of smack in the middle of the devastation,” he said. “Everything of ours is gone, there, basically.”

Bender said between seven and 15 people worked in the factory, depending on the season, and the company’s installation crew also was based there. Solaflect already is looking for replacement facilities and intends to get up and running as soon as it can, he said.

“We intend to shorten our delays and get out there building solar as soon as we can,” he said.

The remains of several burned-out trucks were visible amid the wreckage of the garage on Tuesday afternoon.

Some of the ruined vehicles belonged to Eustis Cable, a communications contractor based in Brookfield, Vt., that employed 12 people in White River Junction. Those vehicles included a cable placement truck, another large truck and an underground trencher, according to the company’s president, Sue Kay.

The second truck, an International 4700, was “brand new,” she said. “We were just putting the decals on it. Hadn’t even put it out to work.”

Eustis also lost the maps, computers and other supplies located in that branch’s office, Kay said. But the company has already rented space nearby and plans to resume business soon, she said.

“There’s no loss of life and there’s no loss of home either,” she added. “That’s the main thing. It’s not somebody’s home; it’s an office.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com. Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com.