Despite a quick response by local firefighters, an early-morning fire in West Pawlet, Vt ., killed one man and destroyed two buildings, including a long-time neighborhood grocery, on March 26.
The owners of Dutchie’s General Store of West Pawlet, Vt., Eric Swanson and Will Kuban, were initially trapped by the flames, but escaped from the second story of the building by jumping out a window to make their way to the ground, officials said.
Both men required medical attention for minor burns and injuries sustained in the fall from the marquee-type sign in the front of the store, police said. The fire also killed two of their three dogs.
The cause of the fire is not considered suspicious, but has not yet been identified by Vermont State Police Fire Investigators.
The victim was identified by residents but not confirmed by authorities as Gary Cary a local part time-farm worker.
Officials discovered Cary’s body in the remains of the building where the fire originated. The building, next door to and south of Dutchie’s, was the source of the fire and had completely burned by the time first responders arrive on scene.
Cary’s body was found in the building after the fire was extinguished.
Officials said the body would be taken for autopsy and identification with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Vermont State Police said.
Firefighters responded to a report of fire and arrived to find the Railroad Avenue business fully involved just before 4 a.m., officials said.
West Pawlet Fire Chief David Hosley said the call went out at 3:48 a.m. “We had our first truck on the scene within six minutes and the next one was there within 10 minutes,” Hosley said. “It was a really good response. We can’t rewrite the outcome, but the fire fighting end of it went well.”
Five fire companies automatically respond to the initial call out for Dutchie’s, but the fire was well advanced when fire fighters arrived, he said.
Once the location of any residents was fire fighters began battling the fire but it was soon obvious the building was too far gone.
“It went from something where a rescue attempt was considered to a total loss in a matter of minutes. (The fire) expanded rapidly, amazingly fast, and got a hold of the building before we even got there,” Hosley said.
The building was older-style ‘balloon’ construction similar to the Bedlam’s Corners store in Hebron which contributed to rapid pace of the fire, further complicated by a windy, cold night.
The blaze required the work of numerous fire companies including all of Granville from Engine and Hose, Hook & Ladder, Penrhyn and North Granville.
A witness who lived nearby said the flames from the fire shot “hundreds of feet into the air” as fire fighters worked to knock down the flames and prevent the fire from taking any additional buildings.
Both structures were considered complete losses.
Fire departments assisting West Pawlet included Pawlet, Wells, Rupert, Dorset, Danby, Hebron, Hartford as well as Fort Ann, Wallingford, Salem, Middletown Springs, East Dorset and Manchester who covered other stations in the area. Hosley said between 80 and 90 fire fighters were on the scene.
Of three family dogs at the property only one survived, Hosley said because the owners were able to get the animal to jump out the window.