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March 23. 2013 1:51PM

Cause of fire that destroyed landmark Litchfield barn remains a mystery

LITCHFIELD - The New Hampshire Fire Marshal's Office has not determined the cause of Friday's massive barn fire at Wilson Farms.

Because of the extensive damage to the barn at 144 Charles Bancroft Highway, the cause of the fire is still undetermined, according to Fire Chief Frank Fraitzl.

Fraitzl said the fire broke out in the storage barn around 9:30 a.m. on Friday, and that firefighters encountered heavy smoke and fire when they arrived.

"Due to the amount of fire in the building and the concern for fertilizers and pesticides within the building, firefighters concentrated efforts on protecting the surrounding buildings, which were all in close proximity to the fire building," Fraitzl said in a release.

No animals were housed inside of the barn, and no one was hurt battling the three-alarm fire.

Steve Dube, fire inspector, said he heard several explosions when he first arrived on the scene. He believes some of those explosions were from propane tanks inside of the barn.

"I heard that one vehicle was fully involved inside. It may have been a pickup truck, but that has yet to be confirmed," Dube said on Saturday, adding farm workers were able to remove many of the tractors stored inside of the barn before the structure was engulfed in flames.

The initial fire attack was to utilize a nearby hydrant, but crews quickly realized they were overpowered and did not have enough water, according to Dube, who said they promptly began a successful defensive technique until additional crews arrived.

Water from a pond across the street from the barn was used to feed tankers and a ladder truck with extra water, he said.

Once other tankers arrived on the scene, combined with the nearby fire hydrant and drafting from the pond, there was sufficient water, Dube explained.

"But they were using the water very wisely because we didn't want to run out," added Dube. "The crews did a very good job of keeping the fire from spreading to the other buildings."

Animals, including some goats, are housed in a nearby barn and were not harmed from the fire, according to fire officials. Dube said it took about two hours to get the blaze under control.

Wilson Farm has a spring plant date of April 15, according to Dube, who said the business lost some tractors and materials from the blaze. A Wilson family representative did not return a phone call seeking comment.

According to Dube, the fire does not appear suspicious. He believes it originated in the back of the two-story barn on the bottom level.

Because of the chemicals within the building, Fraitzl said air monitoring was conducted throughout the fire on Friday.

"A representative from the Southeastern Hazardous Materials District was on scene, as well as New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services whom responded and oversaw the cleanup of run off from the incident," said the chief.

A neighbor said the barn is primarily used as a workshop area and command center for the farming operations. In the winter, there is a lot of work done to restore and prepare the tractors for the upcoming farming season, he said.

Wilson Farm, which has a larger facility in Lexington, Mass., is owned by Donald Wilson, according to its website. The smaller farm and produce stand in Litchfield grows a variety of vegetables, including corn, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes and more.
The Wilson family owns about 500 acres of property in town, according to the farm's website.

khoughton@newstote.com




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