Fire strikes Vermont Soap Co. building in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — State and local fire officials remain uncertain as to what triggered a Wednesday evening blaze that did substantial damage to the production area at Vermont Soap at 606 Exchange St. in Middlebury
David Shaw, assistant chief of the Middlebury Fire Department, said he and other firefighters were returning from a call in the Stonegate Drive area at around 9 p.m. on June 4 when they received reports of smoke emanating from the Vermont Soap building.
When firefighters arrived, they could see flames exiting through a closed, overhead garage door at the structure. Firefighters forced their way in and proceeded to battle the blaze, which they extinguished within around 40 minutes, according to Shaw. Approximately 50 firefighters participated on the call, which included participation from the New Haven and Weybridge fire departments. Members of the Cornwall Fire Department provided station coverage.
Damage, according to Shaw, was confined to a segment of the soap production area within the metal building.
Shaw and state fire marshals inspected the scene on Thursday morning and were unable to conclusively determine how the fire started. The blaze originated in the north corner of the production area, where there was some shelving, a filing cabinet and musical equipment, officials said.
Vermont Soap founder and CEO Larry Plesant and some of his workers were on-site Thursday to scope out the damage and get a sense of when the business might be able to reopen.
“This is not taking us down,” Plesant said resolutely as he surveyed the damage. “Best-case scenario, we ship some soap in some smoky shipping cartons and (the smell) goes away after we ship them out. Worst-case scenario, we have a disaster.”
Pleasant said he hopes Vermont Soap and its 27 employees can be back in business “soon,” once any damaged equipment is replaced.
Shaw said he suspects it might be a while before it will be business as usual as Vermont Soap. He said smoke made its way throughout the building, which in places was subjected to intense temperatures in excess of 600 degrees. The structure will probably require some major electrical system repairs, along with correction of other issues that may only become apparent once equipment and other material are shifted within the building, Shaw noted.
“It will take time,” he said.
It has already been very a busy year for the Middlebury firefighters, who had responded to 116 calls as of Thursday.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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