HOPKINTON — A fire that gutted the town’s highway department garage appears to have started in a truck parked near the building, and though the exact cause of the fire remains unknown, officials say it doesn’t appear suspicious.
On Wednesday night around 6:30, the call came into the Hopkinton Fire Department, and Chief Rich Schaefer said he was on scene within five minutes and found two dump trucks in flames outside the building. The flames had spread to the building itself.
Three alarms were called, drawing crews from eight or nine surrounding communities to battle the blaze, according to Jim O’Brien, chairman of the board of selectmen, who held a special meeting last night to discuss the fire.
By 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Schaefer said, the fire was under control. But the metal roof, just replaced last year, had caved in on the grader, the department’s most expensive piece of equipment that, if a total loss, could cost $250,000 to $300,000 to replace.
Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office determined Thursday that the fire started in a 10-wheel dump truck parked just outside the building. The dump truck then exploded, leading the six-wheel truck in front of it to catch fire and igniting the 6,000-square-foot building.
Though investigators couldn’t pin down the exact cause of the blaze, it doesn’t appear suspicious in nature, said Town Administrator Neal Cass.
It’s not clear whether the grader survived the fire, and highway department crews will have to assess that with the insurance adjuster, who’s due in today. But it appears that the building is a total loss, said Selectman George Langwasser.
In all, it could cost in excess of $1 million to rebuild the facility and replace the damaged vehicles, but the board is confident that insurance will cover most of the cost.
However, the damage could have been far worse had it not been for the quick thinking of some of the highway department crew who rushed in and moved several of the department’s other vehicles out of harm’s way.
“Considering the magnitude of that fire, the town came out pretty well,” said Langwasser, “and the wonderful thing about it is there was no loss of life. We have the manpower to build a new building, but we can’t replace a life.”
Moving forward, the town has brought in two storage trailers and an office trailer to give the highway crew a central place to work from. Cass said that local residents, businesses, the school district, even other towns have offered barn or garage space and assistance. The local Caterpillar dealer offered the town the use of an excavator to help sift through what’s left of the building.
Once the insurance adjusters have determined what the losses are and what the reimbursement will be, the board will start working on plans to rebuild the garage and replace the equipment. O’Brien said a committee may be formed to help determine the best plan for rebuilding and to weigh whether it might be prudent to shift the site where the building rests to make room for a fire station sometime in the future.
The most pressing thing, said Langwasser, was to get the highway department squared away before winter comes and to ensure that it has the tools it needs to care for the town’s roads when the snow starts to fly.
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