From downtown Bellows Falls, smoke almost completely swallowed the Island Street structure. midmorning Wednesday, fire started in the auto body shop housed on one end of the building. Witnesses heard explosions from across the river.
"The three of us thought we heard an explosion and minutes later we looked behind us and there was significant flames coming out of the far right on this building. So, we came out and looked and it was a full structure fire in the right-hand side," said Gaetano Putignano, a witness.
The owner of the building was working on a vehicle when the fire broke out. He says gasoline dripped onto a work light which then combusted and caught the car on fire. Within minutes, flames were shooting through the roof.
A bystander took video of the blaze. Flames could be seen rising high into the air before crews arrived.
Fire officials say multiple propane tanks exploded.
"When we got here there was heavy fire up into the air through the roof. We immediately went to two alarms, which brings in a lot of mutual aid for us," Bellow Falls Fire Chief William Weston said.
Multiple departments were able to knock the fire down within an hour. But in that short time, it had spread through the entire building. Everyone was able to make it out, however a firefighter was injured and transported from the scene.
"Obviously got a head start on us," Weston said. "When we got here, there was fire shooting into the air probably 50-80 feet at the time. So that end of the building got a real head start. Then obviously it traveled from that end down through this end."
Along with the auto body shop, where the roof collapsed in on itself, a one-bedroom apartment and woodworking shop were also consumed by flames.
"We have had our share of fires in this town and it's always a sad day. And it is a very cold day for people fighting the fire," Putignano said.
The owner declined to speak on camera, but said he lost a half a million dollars in equipment and vehicles. A somber start to the new year.
The Red Cross is helping the one tenant displaced by the fire. This is the 14th response for the Red Cross in the past two weeks in Vermont.
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