Vergennes house fire leaves six homeless

VERGENNES — Vergennes firefighters and members of three other departments spent seven hours starting just after 1 a.m. on Thursday morning fighting a blaze that gutted most of a three-unit apartment building at 17-19 White St.
No one was reported to be hurt, but property damage was extensive. The Red Cross was on scene Thursday, meeting with the six people who lost their homes in the fire and providing financial assistance for food, clothing, shoes, seasonal garments and lodging.
A Go Fund Me webpage has been created to raise fund for three members of the Hunt family who were living in one of the apartments; it may be found at online at  www.gofundme.com/jvimxc.
The building is owned by Rola Properties LLC, according to city records. Robert Hunt, who lives at 13 White St. according to city officials, receives correspondence on behalf of Rola Properties.
Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur said it took about four-dozen firefighters from the city, Ferrisburgh, New Haven and Addison almost three hours just to bring the fire under control. 
Not only was the night’s harsh weather challenging, Breur said, but also the building’s brick walls meant the fire had to be fought from the inside, while its metal roof made access to the interior tougher than in many structures.
“It wasn’t easy,” Breur said. “It was an extremely difficult fire, and the teams did an excellent job.”
In response to a question, Breur agreed the building and its layout made firefighters’ job trickier than usual.
“Anytime you’re fighting fires it’s dangerous,” he said. “I’d guess you’d have to say yes because of the multiple additions on the building, which made it hard.”
Of course, that night was the coldest so far of the winter.
“It was brutally cold,” Breur said. “I think it was 14 below. I couldn’t tell you what the wind chill was. Thank goodness the wind died down a half-hour after we got there … Everybody got cold and wet.”
The heated “rehab” truck the Vergennes and Ferrisburgh departments share was put to good use to give firefighters breaks, Breur said, but he and fellow incident commanders Chris Gebo and Matt Fraley, the city’s deputy fire chiefs, spent up to five hours overseeing the incident, while some firefighters worked for three hours or more without a break.
“It’s hard work,” Breur said. “You’re wet and tired, and with it as cold as it was, it makes it extremely difficult.”
When the first firefighters arrived within four minutes of the 1:17 a.m. alarm, they discovered the fire was already serious.
“The house was fully involved in the attic,” Breur said. “One apartment was going. It was cooking when we got there.”
He said the fire was under control by about 4 a.m., and “by the time we got all the spot fires out and stuff, we got back to the station at 8 or 8:30.”
Breur believed from the start the fire was probably accidental, and he called in the Addison County Firefighters’ Association’s Fire Investigation Unit for a second opinion. By mid-morning, he said investigators agreed with him.
“It was an accidental fire. It looks to us like something electrical,” Breur said.
Breur noted about half of the four-dozen firefighters on the frigid scene came from Vergennes’ neighboring communities.
“We couldn’t survive without mutual aid. None of us could. There were a lot of hands, and a lot that needed to be done,” he said. “It’s one thing I’m very grateful for. Addison County has a very strong mutual aid pact.”

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