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Large structure fire engulfs Montpelier lumberyard

Charred remains of a lumberyard.
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
A fire tore through rk Miles' lumberyard in Montpelier on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023.

Firefighters in Montpelier battled a large structure fire in the capitol city's downtown district Wednesday evening.

Shortly before 7 p.m., flames and heavy smoke engulfed the lumberyard of rk MILES located on Stone Cutters Way.

By Thursday morning, all that remained of the structure were ribbons of corrugated metal and charred piles of debris.

Montpelier Fire Chief Robert Gowans told Vermont Public Thursday that morning crews on four ladder trucks at first tried to beat down the flames that had overtaken the building-supply store.

He said it didn't take long to realize the structure couldn't be saved.

“Initially the goal was to save the building, but we quickly stopped that effort and went to saving the two structures on either side and the one behind me," he said.

Those structures include the Hunger Mountain Co-op, Clar Construction, which is located in the historic National Clothespin Factory building, and the Riverside Condominium Association. Both the Co-op and Clar Construction appeared not to have suffered any major damage.

The fire warped the siding and cracked the windows on the lumberyard-facing side of Riverside, which is across the street from rk MILES.

“It was a very hot, rapidly moving, wind-driven fire," Gowans said.

Erin McIntyre, who lives in the Riverside Condominium Association, said she saw saw smoke coming from the lumberyard at about 6:15 Wednesday evening.

"And then I saw quite a bit of flames happen very quickly, and then I called 911 because I thought, 'Oh my gosh, this is just starting," she said.

As the blaze intensified, McIntyre said, she began to fear for her own safety.

"I waited for maybe 20 minutes to kind of see what was happening, and it got so much worse in those 20 minutes I thought this building was going to burn down too," she said.

McIntyre evacuated her home at about 7 p.m. and returned three hours later.

She said she was thankful for the firefighters who were spraying water on the condominium to prevent it from igniting.

“I think they did an incredible job taking care of this," she said.

Gowan said no injuries were reported. According to a Facebook post from the city Wednesday evening, the Montpelier Fire Department lost a fire engine in the blaze.

Large structure fire engulfs lumberyard in Montpelier

Gowans said flames overtook the vehicle before crews could move it to safety.

“The initial crew pulled own in, they tried to make an attack on the fire, and it just overwhelmed them and they were not able to get the truck out," he said.

Gowans said the truck was destroyed but that the city is insured against the loss. He said the lumberyard is also a total loss. A representative for rk MILES wasn't immediately available for comment Thursday morning.

McIntyre and other residents reported hearing explosions Wednesday evening. Gowans said the noises were due to propane tanks, a transformer and tires on the fire truck.

Residents in parts of the downtown lost power Wednesday night when a transmission line caught fire. Gowans said electricity had been fully restored by Thursday morning.

Fire crews from Montpelier and surrounding towns worked through the night to contain the blaze and prevent it from spreading.

Between the July flood and another major fire in Montpelier's downtown last weekend, Gowans said his crew has endured a long few months.

“It’s just been a lot," he said. "Since July 10, we have pretty much worked non-stop, between the flood, the fire last Saturday evening, now this fire. And it doesn’t end."

The fire last weekend caused major damage to local eatery Mad Taco and neighboring bar Charlie-O’s, and came less than four months after Montpelier's downtown was devastated by July's historic flooding.

"This is a major, major loss for Montpelier," said Vicki Lane, who lives up the hill from Wednesday's fire. "It's just awful."

This story has been updated.

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Mike Dougherty is Vermont Public's Director of Digital Strategy, overseeing the organization's online platforms. Prior to joining Vermont Public, Mike was a senior editor and digital editor for VTDigger. He previously held roles with the Vermont Humanities Council, the oral history nonprofit StoryCorps, Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, and the Brooklyn-based alt-weekly L Magazine. Mike hails from the D.C. area and studied journalism and music at New York University.
Brittany Patterson joined Vermont Public in December 2020. Previously, she was an energy and environment reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Ohio Valley ReSource. Prior to that, she covered public lands, the Interior Department and forests for E&E News' ClimateWire, based in Washington, D.C. Brittany also teaches audio storytelling and has taught classes at West Virginia University, Saint Michael's College and the University of Vermont. She holds degrees in journalism from San Jose State University and U.C. Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. A native of California, Brittany has fallen in love with Vermont. She enjoys hiking, skiing, baking and cuddling with her rescues, a 95-pound American Bulldog mix named Cooper, and Mila, the most beautiful calico cat you'll ever meet.
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