×

Investigators Seek Cause of Fire in Downtown Woodstock

  • Springfield, Vt., firefighters James Knight and Mark Hadwen take a break on the steps of the post office building in Woodstock, Vt., before heading back inside buildings housing Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, The Vermont Standard, and The Collective that were damaged by fire early Monday morning, July 16, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Phillip Cabot Camp, Sr., owner of The Vermont Standard, watches firefighters work to finish putting out the fire that damaged Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, The Vermont Standard, and The Collective in Woodstock on Monday, July 16, 2018. Firefighters were able to retrieve computers and a fire safe containing backup documents from the newspaper’s second floor offices. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. 

  • Firefighters battle a blaze involving Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, The Vermont Standard, and The Collective in Woodstock, Vt., early Monday morning, July 16, 2018. Firefighters arrived to the scene at 3:30 a.m. No injuries were reported and a cause is yet to be determined. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A firefighter examines one of the buildings housing Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, The Vermont Standard, and The Collective as others work to put out the fire in Woodstock, Vt., on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Firefighters battle a blaze involving Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, The Vermont Standard, and The Collective in Woodstock on Monday, July 16, 2018. Double and triple roofs on some parts of the buildings made fighting the fire challenging. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Crews battle a fire at 55 Central Street in Woodstock, Vt., on July 16, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Gareth Henderson, editor of the Vermont Standard, works on keeping The Vermont Standard website up-to-date in the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vt., that they have taken temporary refuge in after their offices were made inhospitable by a fire earlier in the morning on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A box of personal possessions and pictures that firefighters managed to pull out of the burning building sits in The Vermont Standard's temporary headquarter at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vt., on Monday, July 16, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After their offices were made inhospitable by a fire earlier in the morning, The Vermont Standards takes refuge in the Norman Williams Public Library's "room of requirements," from the Harry Potter book series, in Woodstock, Vt., on Monday, July 16, 2018, to ensure they can keep putting out a paper. (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 Writers
Monday, July 16, 2018

Woodstock — State fire investigators are trying to determine what caused a fire in a Central Street building early Monday that destroyed a pizza place, heavily damaged the Vermont Standard’s offices, displaced a family and threatened an art gallery.

Vermont State Police Detective Senior Sgt. Tom Williams said the fire is believed to have started in a first-floor office space at Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, the business that occupied the majority of the first floor of 47-55 Central St.

Williams said it is too early to tell whether the fire is suspicious.

Woodstock Fire Chief David Green said the fire started around 3:30 a.m. and proved difficult to extinguish because of double and triple layers of roofing.

The 47-55 Central St. area consists of two buildings that are separated by what Green referred to as a fire wall. The first is an old wooden structure that housed Pi, the family of two and their pets, and half of the Vermont Standard, and the second is an even older concrete structure next to Kedron Brook that is home to the other half of the Standard and Collective, an artisans gallery.

The wooden structure was a total loss; the Standard’s newsroom and production area and Collective suffered smoke and some water damage but will be habitable after some remediation, Green said.

There were no injuries.

Phillip Camp Sr., owner of the Vermont Standard, remained positive about the situation, despite just losing all of the contents of his office as well as other office spaces. Firefighters were able retrieve computers and a fire safe containing backup documents, Camp said.

“I will promise you this newspaper will print this week,” Camp said. The Standard, which Camp said is the oldest weekly in Vermont at 165 years old, publishes on Thursdays.

Monday’s fire wasn’t the first time the newspaper has suffered a blow. The Standard’s offices, then in West Woodstock, were destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 — and even then, the paper’s staff vowed to put out an edition.

“That was the dress rehearsal for today,” said Camp, who acknowledged that he didn’t yet have time to reflect on the devastation, only to react.

“We shall overcome,” he said.

On Monday, Camp said he accepted an offer from the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock to set up shop there in the interim.

Deirdre Donnelly, an owner and member of Collective who makes jewelry, was on the scene on Monday with her dog, Scallywag, who is often perched in the gallery’s window.

Donnelly and other members waited all morning to learn of the fate of their artwork, and later on in the day, many of them saw a glimpse of hope when a dozen firefighters began carrying armfuls of handmade wood products, paintings, clothing, baskets and more out of the shop.

Although some pieces suffered smoke and water damage, the artwork that crews removed suffered no fire damage.

At the time, Donnelly’s jewelry collection still remained inside.

“I am just happy no one is hurt. The rest is just stuff,” Donnelly said. “All we can do is hope and wait.”

Collective founder Marcia Hammond, a fiber artist, had all of her inventory in Collective’s gallery and has a show coming up, Donnelly said. Hammond opened her arms to her work as firefighters brought it over to her.

Messages left for Pi owner Sarah Callander weren’t returned.

Several extra hands were on tap on Monday, including Red Cross workers who assisted firefighters, first responders and the displaced family. Nearby business owners brought out coffee pots, ice water and refreshments for all who were impacted.

“Losing a day’s work is nothing compared to this,” said Sam DiNatale, who owns Mon Vert Cafe, a business that sits across the street from the Central Street building that burned.

DiNatale also offered garage space to Collective artists who temporarily need to store items.

She called Woodstock a special community made up of people who rally around one another in times of need.

“Irene showed that too,” DiNatale said. “That is one of the special things about Woodstock.”

Donnelly seconded that.

“It’s so nice to be in this community,” she said.

The shape of the Central Street building changed dramatically throughout the day Monday, with the fire slowly eating away at the structure. Flames continued to spark up, forcing officials to call in an excavator to rip off the front of the building so firefighters could fully extinguish the blaze.

Central Street remained closed for much of the day, as it was home to dozens of firetrucks, scores of firefighters and onlookers.

Liza Deignan, the building’s property manager, was on scene on Monday. She said there were two apartments in the building and that one was vacant.

“Everybody’s safe, so that’s the good news,” she said.

As part of the investigation, members of the Vermont State Police and the state Fire Investigation Unit collected samples of debris from the burned building and brought them to the state laboratory to be tested for accelerants, which are substances that can be used to speed up a fire.

A police dog sniffed the piles of material before they went to the laboratory, and the dog alerted her handler that an accelerant was within the debris. Officials then marked a spot in the pile with a yellow number card.

Just what the accelerant is and whether it will prove suspicious remains to be seen, said Williams, the state police detective.

Williams called the process of taking debris out of a building, marking it and sending it to the lab a routine part in the investigation process.

“We see something, we collect it and we try to explain it,” he said. “It can be as much to disprove something than it is to prove it.”

The structure is owned by El-Kam Realty, Co., of New York, and is assessed at $1.14 million, according to town records. It wasn’t clear what year the wooden portion of the building was built, but the fire chief thought the early 1900s.

The building didn’t have sprinklers. It did have smoke detectors.

The stone portion of the building — which housed Collective and part of the Standard — was built in the early 19th century, according to the Woodstock Historical Society.

“The two-story wooden addition to the front is a later addition in the Colonial-Revival style,” an excerpt in Woodstock: A Walking Guide reads.

Several nearby business owners wondered what the future would look like for the pizza restaurant, saying the business, which included a large outdoor patio space, contributed to the positive vibes in the downtown area.

Scott Smith, who co-owns Red Wagon Toy Co. and 37 Central Clothiers, said he hopes the ruined building is torn down so it doesn’t become an eyesore. He said he hopes the landlord rebuilds soon so the pizza shop and other tenants can get resettled.

“I would hate to see it not go back as a restaurant,” Smith said of the building’s tenants.

He said all of the businesses in the downtown area had suffered during recent construction work to replace the Central Street, which is also Route 4, bridge over Kedron Brook. Specifically, Collective was forced to close its doors for the majority of two months.

Jess Abston, the owner of the Who is Sylvia? vintage clothing store, feared for the future of the downtown.

“It is going to have a lasting impact,” she said. “It is going to change the fabric of our downtown for years to come. It probably won’t be the same from here on out.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.



Update: The fire that gutted part of a Central Street building early Monday morning is being investigated as suspicious, Woodstock Fire Chief David Green said on Tuesday.