MOULTONBOROUGH — Fire investigators may never find out what started the fire that destroyed The Woodshed, a Lakes Region landmark restaurant that burned to the ground Thanksgiving night.
Investigators from the state Fire Marshal's office say they are still investigating witness accounts and are seeking new information about the fire from Woodshed employees and residents, but they still have not found the cause of the fire that leveled the 19th-century building that was once a farmhouse.
Part-owner Scott Ouellette said fire investigators have told him the cause may never be found. Having spent more than two months looking, "It was such an old building, and there's so little left, they've said they may not find the cause at this point," Ouellette said.
The 2,000-square-foot restaurant was converted to a restaurant about 40 years ago. Ouellette bought the restaurant a little more than a year ago with three partners. The restaurant featured 40 years of memorabilia and photos of famous people, like the late actor Henry Fonda, who ate there.
The building was valued at $401,500, according to officials.
The last person in the restaurant left just before 9 p.m., employees said. The fire was reported just before 10 p.m., and by 11 p.m. the building was engulfed in flames.
About 40 employees lost their jobs because of the fire.
Ouellette has said the owners will most likely not rebuild the restaurant, saying last month it would be impossible to recreate the restaurant.
Firefighters said the fire spread through the building quickly because of its age and all of the "fuel" for the fire inside — the mementos, books, ornaments and other items that helped give the restaurant its character, according to Ouellette.
After the fire, fire investigators found themselves picking through rubble and remnants of the wooden building, but very little of the building itself was left, leaving fire investigators with few avenues to look at aside from interviewing witnesses who were there Thanksgiving night, said now-retired investigator Bill Clark of the state Fire Marshal's Office.
Fire investigators often find it difficult to determine a cause for a fire in a case such as this — a very old building with lots of old items inside that make a fire move quickly and destructively, said Gilford Fire Chief Stephen Carrier, a veteran fire investigator.
"The level of destruction is a determining factor (in finding a fire's cause)," Carrier said.
Investigators who can't find a clear cause usually begin trying to rule out causes.
"If the destruction is such that very little is left, it's hard to rule out much, so the investigation can be lengthy or a cause may never be found. That's not uncommon," Carrier said.