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No injuries reported after Main Street apartment fire

BRATTLEBORO—There was no serious damage, and no injuries on the night of Jan. 3 as firefighters dealt with a fire in a first-floor apartment on 111 Main St., between Amy’s Bakery Arts Café and Miller Bros.-Newton clothiers.

According to Fire Chief Michael Bucossi, the fire at what’s known as the Granite Block was reported at 4:48 p.m. The second alarm was sounded at 4:57 p.m., and a third-alarm at 5:07 p.m.

Staff at Amy’s Bakery Arts Cafe called in the fire when their office, located above the fire, filled with smoke, Bucossi said.

Bucossi said the fire department’s three in-house inspectors are withholding announcing the fire’s cause until they complete conversations with the apartment’s tenant.

“Officially, the fire is considered undetermined, but it does not appear to be suspicious,” said Bucossi.

The fire’s point of origin was on top of the kitchen table, he said.

Bucossi said the first arriving crew was told of a fire on the building’s first floor, which is actually two levels below Main Street and accessed through the rear of the building via Arch Street, which runs parallel to Main Street by the railroad tracks. Firefighters found smoke coming from the door to Apartment 7.

At that point, Bucossi said, the second alarm was struck, calling all career and volunteer crews from the Elliot Street Station and Station 2 in West Brattleboro. The Station 2 crew was directed to the rear of the building.

Fighting fires on Arch Street comes with challenges — a narrow 8-foot wide roadway, the proximity to railroad tracks, and “horrid basement” areas, said Bucossi.

The confined area defeats the ability to have a “collapse zone” if one of the buildings falls. Heavy snow can also block access, he added.

Training and familiarity with the area helped firefighters the most in their attempts to extinguish the fire quickly, he said.

The shift captain told Bucossi that when firefighters arrived at the apartment door they witnessed the smoke first seep into the hall, then suddenly be sucked back into the apartment.

“It’s like the atmosphere was trying to breathe,” said Bucossi.

Bucossi explained that the inhale-exhale effect occurs when a fire lacks the oxygen to fuel itself. Firefighters have to enter a space carefully in such situations, he said. The rush of oxygen from opening a door or window feeds the fire.

Firefighters stood outside the apartment with a fire hose ready to douse the flames. Meanwhile, the crew at the back of the building facing the railroad tracks broke a window to release the pressure building in the apartment, said Bucossi.

Bucossi described the smoke rolling out the back window as “puke black,” usually caused by burning plastics or vinyl.

Because of the location of the fire, Bucossi said a third alarm was struck so resources could be split. All of the mutual aid personnel were sent to Arch Street to work with Brattleboro Engine 2 as there was easier access to the fire apartment from there.

The entire building was evacuated as smoke traveled to the upper floors, Bucossi said, but the fire was contained to the one apartment, which received heavy damage and will not be able to be reoccupied.

Bucossi said old buildings that were built using “balloon construction,” like 111 Main Street, or the Brooks House, have void spaces that allow smoke and fire to travel. The spaces in these old buildings are so large that you can drop a penny through the walls from the attic to the basement, Bucossi said.

The Granite Block had a full fire alarm and sprinkler system, he said. The fire, however, did not generate enough heat to activate the sprinklers.

Smoke detectors gave the early warning and saved the building from a lot of damage, Bucossi said.

Bucossi said there were no injuries, and the fire was under control at 5:52 p.m.

Assisting Brattleboro at the scene were Putney and the Hinsdale, Keene, and Chesterfield, N.H., fire departments, as well as Rescue Inc., Brattleboro Police, the town Department of Public Works, and the Red Cross. Covering the Brattleboro stations were crews from Greenfield and Northfield, Mass., as well as Putney and Guilford.

Traffic in downtown Brattleboro was blocked off between Flat and High streets for about an hour. The arrival of the northbound Amtrak Vermonter was delayed by about 90 minutes, due to the work of the fire crews by the railroad tracks.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #134 (Wednesday, January 11, 2012).

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