Firefighters save North Ferrisburgh building

AN ACCIDENTAL FIRE late Wednesday night in the wooden mill at the east end of Old Hollow Road village damaged the wood shop area of the building (right), but a portion to the left under renovation did not appear to be badly damaged on Thursday. Independent photo/Steve James

“That (fire) was stubborn, but I would say we were more stubborn. We worked at it and were able to save the building. The crews worked hard and made a really good save.”
— Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bill Wager

FERRISBURGH — Three dozen firefighters from six departments, including 21 from the Ferrisburgh Volunteer Fire Department, saved at least the structure of a historic North Ferrisburgh mill from a fire that was called in at about 11:20 p.m. on Wednesday.

The wooden mill is on the banks of Lewis Creek at the east end of Old Hollow Road village and is owned by Rae Donovan, principal of Ferrisburgh Central School, and her husband, Jeff. Their nearby home was untouched by the fire, according to Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bill Wager.

Wager said when firefighters arrived — the first within about six minutes of being alerted — they found flames coming from a woodshop to the rear of the mill, a building that dates back to at least the 1800s (one local man said part of it was built in 1790).

“Apparently part of it has been turned into a woodshop in the back, and it looks like the fire started there,” Wager said.

He said the fire was almost certainly accidental, although Wager added investigators were expected on the scene.

Wager described what Ferrisburgh firefighters discovered when they first arrived, and then what they and their colleagues from Vergennes, Monkton, Charlotte, Shelburne and Addison accomplished and dealt with during the roughly three hours they were on the scene.

“They saw involvement on the east side, which would have been over the river, and there was also fire showing from the west side, the doorway to the woodshop,” he said. “We were able to keep it contained to that area, but one of the challenges was the fire had extended into a secondary roof. A section of roof had been built over a roof, and the fire was traveling in that area.”

Finding and reaching the fire in the gap in the roofing was the biggest difficulty firefighters faced, Wager said.

“That was our challenge, to gain access to that area, because we had knocked it out on the inside of the structure, but unfortunately the fire actually had gone through the roof in the back. But we were able to pivot and go after it where it was showing up, and we were able to extinguish it,” he said. “It kept popping back up, but the crews were stubborn, and they put it out.”

FERRISBURGH FIRE CHIEF Bill Wager said firefighters from six departments contained the blaze in the ancient mill on Old Hollow Road but then it kept popping up in the roof above the workshop where there was a gap between the roof and the older roof below it.
Independent photo/Steve James

Wager summed up.

“That building was stubborn, but I would say we were more stubborn. We worked at it and were able to save the building,” he said. “The crews worked hard and made a really good save.”

Wager praised the collaboration among the contingents from a half-dozen departments, adding that Vermont State Police were on the scene for a time directing traffic on the one lane of traffic that remained open on Old Hollow Road.

“The guys did a great job,” he said.

Donovan expressed her appreciation to the community.

“We are so grateful for our local firefighters who responded quickly last night and our community of neighbors who helped us today,” she said on Thursday. “We are so grateful that everyone is safe.”

The incident was the second significant structure fire of the year in Ferrisburgh. On Sept. 22 Ferrisburgh firefighters helped an elderly resident escape through a window from a Route 7 home fire, but could not save the structure.

Wager said the department has also responded to a number of other fires on a mutual-aid basis, as well as to car accidents and other incidents in what he called the busiest year in the 45 he has been with the department.

“It’s the most active year in my tenure,” he said.

Wager added he grew up in the Hollow not far from the old mill, and not only does he remember another fire at the mill when he was a child, but he also worked in the building when he was in high school.

Being able to preserve the structure meant a little extra to him, he acknowledged:

“There’s a rather sentimental attachment to that building.”

THE OLD WOODEN mill struck by fire on Wednesday night was built on the banks of Lewis Creek perhaps as long as 230 years ago. The blaze, which firefighters from six departments extinguished, was called in a little before midnight on Wednesday.
Independent photo/Steve James



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