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Fire destroys Bristol barn on a bitterly cold evening

BRISTOL — A Saturday evening fire destroyed a barn on Choiniere Road in Bristol and required scores of firefighters to extinguish. The barn was owned by the Choiniere family, who until 2012 operated a dairy farm on the property for decades.
Bristol Fire Department First Assistant Chief Brett LaRose said the department received the call at 5:01 p.m. on Jan. 4. By the time crews arrived, the barn was fully involved and the roof had collapsed. Knowing the structure couldn’t be saved, firefighters began defensive measures to contain the flames and protect a nearby garage.
The size of the structure — LaRose estimated the barn to be 75 feet by 200 feet — made necessary the help of other departments. Five companies responded, from Bristol, Monkton, Starksboro, New Haven and Lincoln. A total of 55 personnel arrived to fight the blaze, which was brought under control by 7 p.m.
Paul and Liz Choiniere, who owned the barn, were home in the adjacent farmhouse when the fire began. There were several animals in the barn, including two mini-horses, an alpaca and a cow, but all were freed before being consumed by smoke and flames.
Liz Choiniere said she worried that the other structures on the property, including her home, would succumb to the flames.
“We were concerned for everyone’s safety,” Choiniere said. “The firefighters did a great job — they took precautions in case the wind changed.”
Firefighters endured below-zero temperatures and high winds, which fueled the already-large blaze. Sheer luck prevented the damage from being worse.
“If the wind had been blowing in another direction, we would have lost other structures,” LaRose said. He added that in the freezing temperatures, it is possible for a firefighter’s breathing apparatus to freeze over.
Inside the barn were 200 bales of hay, which acted as fuel for the blaze. LaRose said the largest fuel source, however, was the decades-old wood that composed the structure.
The Ferrisburgh and Vergennes fire departments brought their rehabilitation trailer, which provided firefighters with warmth and shelter during breaks.
“The trailer was our saving grace, it was a dry and warm place where firefighters could drink and eat,” LaRose said. “The cold was very problematic.”
The fire was extinguished shortly after midnight. LaRose estimated that firefighters poured 50,000-60,000 gallons of water from five tankers on the blaze.
Liz Choiniere said an insurance investigator had determined the cause of the fire. She declined to disclose it, but added that the origin of the blaze is not considered suspicious.
The barn was built in 1948 and housed cows while the Choinieres ran a dairy. Paul and Liz Choiniere bought the farm from Paul’s father, Mark Choiniere, in 2012.  The couple discontinued the dairy, and used the barn to house a few animals, as well as hay bales.
Choiniere said the family hopes to rebuild the barn, which has been in the family for several generations. She added that her children, ages 5 and 7, have talked about holding a fundraiser at their school to raise money to replace the alpaca’s reins.
TWO FIREFIGHTERS SPRAY water on a blaze that consumed a barn on Choiniere Road in Bristol this past Saturday evening. More than 50 firefighters responded to the conflagration in sub-zero weather. Photo by Mark Bouvier

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