Winchester man, 75, charged with causing massive fire at local fireworks store

Firefighters battle a fire at Stateline Fireworks in Winchester. Law enforcement officials originally said Joseph E. Champagne’s wanton firing of a shotgun triggered the September fire.

WINCHESTER — The 75-year-old man charged in the September fire at the Stateline Fireworks store on Route 10 is now accused of stealing the shotgun that police say started the blaze, as well as two other guns, from a former roommate, according to documents filed last week in the Cheshire Superior Court in Keene.

Joseph E. Champagne lives across the street from Stateline Fireworks, where he has occasionally worked odd jobs. He has been charged with felony charges of reckless conduct, criminal mischief and two counts of falsifying physical evidence in the Sept. 24 fire that caused more than $660,000 in damages.

Champagne initially denied having any guns, but eventually told police he had taken three from Austin McKelvey, 30, in lieu of rent, according to the affidavit filed in court by Winchester police detective Michael Carrier. McKelvey told police the guns were stolen when McKelvey left the shared home, according to the affidavit.

Champagne told police he had sold two of the guns, a pistol and a .22 caliber rifle, for $50 a piece, and that he'd kept the shotgun, according to the affidavit.

Champagne told police on the day of the fire that he'd tripped over the loaded shotgun in his home, which then fired a slug through the wall, across the street and into the fireworks store, according to police.

Police zeroed in on Champagne’s house after finding the hole in the store building where the slug had gone in, determining that it had come from Champagne’s house. Champagne had tried to repair the holes in his home, and had buried the shotgun in his backyard, police said.

At the time of the incident, store employee Ryan McAlpine was with store owner Micael Dapkus, loading items into a storage container when they heard what sounded like a gunshot; moments later, they started hearing fireworks going off in the store as the fire started by the shotgun slug picked up, according to the affidavit.

Champagne remains free on personal recognizance bail following his bail hearing in the superior court last Wednesday.