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Rod’s Towing & Repairs in Putney, sidelined by a devastating fire, has resumed repairs in a rebuilt garage with the help of the community.

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Putney garage, recovering from fire, bustles again

Investigation continues into fire that destroyed Rod’s building; reward offered

PUTNEY—After four months being closed, it’s busy again at Rod’s Towing & Repairs.

“We’ve gone from zero to 100 overnight,” said co-owner Julie Winchester of the reopening of her family’s business following its destruction in a fire in October.

“We’re so thankful. It’s super busy. It’s a little challenging working in a smaller space with uneven floors and in two buildings,” she said.

“We haven’t finished, so we have no waiting room or front counter,” Winchester continued. “The only thing finished is the three bays. One of my daughters thought about walkie-talkies— ”

“—or screaming,” interjected her husband Greg.

“So we thought about those,” said his wife with a laugh. “We’ve been creative. But it definitely feels good to have that hustle back. They [customers] weren’t kidding when they said they were just waiting for us to reopen.”

The Winchesters hope to finish repairs to the shop by the middle of the summer.

They are still trying to figure out how much won’t be covered by insurance.

“I just spoke with [the insurance carrier] today and I know we will be short, but I didn’t get a number. I think they’ll work on it and I should know where we’ll land soon, in case we need to take out loans,” Julie Winchester said.

The couple has also had “a couple of people offer to be lenders,” she said.

“I said to them, ‘This couldn’t have happened at a worse time’ because the cost of materials is so bad. We’re getting hit with it on the construction side.”

The business on 40 Main St., near Exit 4 of Interstate 91, was started in 1967 by Greg’s father Rodney and grandfather Raymond. The Oct. 9 blaze destroyed the garage structure despite numerous area fire departments fighting it for several hours.

Along with the building, several customer vehicles were damaged or destroyed in the fire, as were tools, equipment, personal belongings, and mementos.

Community members rallied around the Winchester family following the fire, donating $20,000 on givebutter.com at #RodsStrong and organizing several community fundraising suppers.

Still under investigation

In October, investigators for the state Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit responded to the scene to conduct an origin and cause examination. Investigators now believe the fire started at the back of the building and may be the cause of direct human involvement.

“It appears to be an incendiary fire, which means there is direct human involvement,” said Detective Sergeant Matthew Hill of the Vermont State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations’ Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit.

He explained that fire is ultimately classified into four categories — arson, accidental, natural, or undetermined — but that those categorizations don’t come until later.

This fire is still under active investigation.

“If we find the people responsible, and if we find out during the investigation that it was with intent to destroy property, then that person or persons would be charged with arson,” Hill said.

“First, we have to determine if there was intention or was it an accident,” he said. “It may not always rise to the level of a criminal event.”

In the case of the Rod’s fire, Hill said, “there’s no other ignition source in the area that we’ve been able to locate that would explain the fire.”

Police still seeking public input

The blaze at Rod’s was one of several fires in southeast Vermont during October 2021. Police consider the fire that took place on Oct. 2, 2021, on Shagbark Hill Road in Putney solved and have made an arrest.

Investigators are asking anyone with information about the Rod’s fire to contact the Vermont State Police in Westminster at 802-722-4600. Tips may also be submitted anonymously by texting keyword VTIPS to 274637 (CRIMES) or by following prompts from vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit.

Those with information also may contact the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program at 800-32-ARSON. The program is a separate entity from the state police and, through funding from insurance companies, offers up to $5,000 of reward money for information leading to an arrest.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #653 (Wednesday, March 2, 2022). This story appeared on page A1.

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