Fire destroys Blue Spruce Motel on Route 7 in Middlebury
MIDDLEBURY — Seven area fire departments responded to a Wednesday morning blaze that destroyed the Blue Spruce Motel at 2428 Route 7 South.
Middlebury Fire Chief Dave Shaw said he knew of no fatalities or injuries among those staying at what owner Sam Sharma said was at the time a fully rented motel.
Sharma said he plans to rebuild.
Fire investigators were still investigating the possible origin(s) of the blaze as the Addison Independent went to press.
During the morning commuting time, people from miles around could see a large column of dark grey smoke rising from the motel.
Shaw said he received the fire report at around 7:15 a.m., and he arrived on scene within about 5 minutes. He immediately noted “heavy fire” coming out of the office area of the motel and a lot of smoke coming from a common attic at the northern end of the long, horizontal structure. Since the building had a common attic, there was no physical “fire stop” to prevent the blaze from spreading and enveloping the entire structure, according to Shaw.
Noting the severity of the fire and the size of the structure, Shaw immediately put out a call for mutual aid that ultimately attracted firefighters and equipment from the Brandon, Bristol, Cornwall, New Haven, Salisbury and Vergennes fire departments.
Vergennes brought along its aerial ladder truck, which played a key role in dispersing water along the top of the Blue Spruce Motel building. Shaw noted Middlebury’s ladder truck is currently out of commission and its new rig is not due for delivery until this fall.
“It can’t come soon enough,” Shaw said of the new truck. “This is the prime reason why Middlebury needs an aerial.”
Shaw confirmed the fire spread to a couple of propane tanks behind the building and the tanks had ruptured. Fortunately, they did not explode to cause an even bigger disaster, officials said.
It took the approximately 60 assembled firefighters more than two hours to get the blaze under control, according to Shaw.
The Blue Spruce website indicates the property offered 23 guest rooms, rented to visitors for short- and long-term stays. The motel’s long-term clientele this week included several Vermont Gas workers who have been connecting natural gas lines in the Middlebury area.
Sharma was in Barre when his wife called him at 7:40 a.m. to say there was a fire in the attic. His son had smelled some smoke. Members of the Sharma family and all of the guests quickly exited the building, according to Sharma, who quickly traveled back to Middlebury to see what was left of the family’s investment.
“I told my wife to call 911, that I was on my way,” Sharma said. “She said, ‘It’s starting to spread, it’s starting to spread.’”
Some guests — including the Vermont Gas workers — had left for work prior to the start of the fire. Others left for other motels or to be with family or friends, according to the Sharmas.
The motel was equipped with a fire alarm system, but that system did not immediately go off because the fire apparently started in the attic, according to Sharma.
“The smoke started above the alarm,” he said.
Sharma said the property is insured and that he plans to rebuild the motel.
“We have to bring it back again,” he said of the motel. “I depend on (the business it generates). It is a landmark in town.”
The Blue Spruce property is currently assessed at $815,600 by the town of Middlebury. That figure also takes into account a separate home on the parcel.
The blaze prompted officials to halt traffic on Route 7 for several hours between Cady Road and Route 125 in East Middlebury. Cars were diverted onto Cady Road, to Route 116.
The Red Cross reported that it was assisting 13 people from six families displaced by the Blue Spruce fire.
Brittany Bilodeau has been a neighbor of the Blue Spruce for the past three years. She said a friend called her at work early Wednesday morning to let her know the motel was on fire. Bilodeau dashed home during her break to make sure her apartment unit was not in danger — and it wasn’t. She joined a small group of people who solemnly watched the fierce red-and-yellow flames consume a structure that had provided shelter to generations of weary travelers, Middlebury College parents and locals with nowhere else to go.
“It’s sad,” she said of the loss. “On this side of town, it’s like the only motel.”
Regina Bird, another Blue Spruce neighbor, noticed the fire at around 7:20 a.m.
“There was black smoke pouring out of the office entrance,” she recalled. “Within 10 minutes, it was engulfed.”
Bird has lived near the motel for more than 20 years.
“It’s sad,” she said. Echoing Bilodeau’s remarks.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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