Montpelier fire forces tenants from eight-unit building

Photo by Cate Chant/VTDigger
MONTPELIER — A fire that started when a maintenance person was thawing frozen pipes has forced an unknown number of tenants of an eight-unit building out of their apartments.
Montpelier Fire Department Lt. Dana Huoppi said the fire broke out in the basement of the four-story building at 197 Main St., at the corner of Main and Loomis Streets, mid-morning and quickly spread between the interior and exterior walls.
Two apartments on the bottom floor, which is below ground level in the front of the building, are a total loss, Huoppi said. The fire spread up through the floor of the first-floor apartment. Other apartments in the building are uninhabitable because of smoke and water damage, he said.
Morningstar Management Co., which manages the building, and the Red Cross are finding shelter for the residents, Huoppi said. A representative of Morningstar could not say exactly how many people lived in the building, but all but one had been contacted.
Huoppi said the maintenance person called 911 when the flames spread. One person was at home when the fire broke out and safely left the building, he said. One cat was rescued, while two others remain missing. A cockatiel in the basement apartment died.
About 35 firefighters from Montpelier’s and seven nearby fire departments responded after a call went out for mutual aid. The neighboring departments included those from Barre City, Barre Town, Berlin, East Montpelier, Northfield, Waterbury and Worcester.
Huoppi said he did not know what the maintenance person was using to thaw the pipes, but he did emphasize that people should use heat guns and hair dryers, rather than torches or open flames.
Firefighting in sub-zero temperatures is a challenge, he said. The closest hydrant was frozen at first, he said. Air packs freeze up, water gets on protective gear and freezes, making it difficult for firefighters to move, and firefighters leaving the building get chilled from going from such hot conditions to frigid ones.
“The cold wears you down fast,” he said.
Vermont Emergency Management warns that the subzero temperatures that are expected to continue through the week can pose a danger to people and property. If a primary heating source is lost, it’s essential that alternate sources such as fireplaces, wood stoves or space heaters, are properly ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure heating vents are clear of snow and ice and test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Jason Gosselin, operations and logistics chief at Vermont Emergency Management, encourages Vermonters to sign up for weather, road and emergency updates from Vermont Alert at http://www.vtalert.gov.
Rebecca Webber, a resident, was not at home when the fire broke out, but returned to her home after hearing of the fire to search for her two cats, who remain missing. She lives in the building with her 17-year-old foster daughter, who was at school. She wasn’t sure where she would sleep tonight.
“The management company is trying to work something out,” she said. “I also have friends who are local.” She said she has called the Department for Children and Families to see if they wanted to make arrangements for her foster daughter. Meantime, she said, she would wait and see if her cats showed up.
“This is my first fire,” she said. “I really don’t know what to do.”
Read the story on VTDigger here: Montpelier fire forces tenants from eight-unit building.