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 — A 75-year-old Winchester man faces seven charges, including four felonies, after state and local law enforcement officials said the wanton discharge of his shotgun set off a massive fire in September at a nearby fireworks store that caused up to $1 million in damages.

Joseph E. Champagne was released on bail.

He will be arraigned Jan. 3 in the 8th Circuit Court Keene District Division on felony charges of reckless conduct, criminal mischief and two counts of falsifying physical evidence, officials said.

Champagne also was charged with theft by unauthorized taking, false swearing and unauthorized use of a firearm.

The arrest follows a joint investigation of State Fire Marshal Paul Parisi’s office and the Winchester Fire and Police departments into the Sept. 24 fire at Stateline Fireworks at 151 Keene Road in Winchester.

According to store executives, Champagne was working part time as a groundskeeper for the owner’s family at the time of the fire.

The fireworks store was open at the time of the fire and was staffed by two employees who were working outside.

There were no civilian or firefighter injuries but the blaze caused between $600,000 and $1 million in damages, Parisi said. Store executives put the damage at about $700,000.

All of the fire sprinkler heads in the business’s showroom worked and there was a speedy local public safety response, which saved the building and kept the fire from spreading to nearby buildings.

Winchester Fire Chief Barry Kellom and Winchester Police Lt. Mike Tollett said the probe confirmed that Champagne had discharged his 12-gauge slug-style shotgun and that the slug traveled through the exterior wall of nearby 156 Keene Road and traveled across Route 10 and into the Stateline Fireworks store — immediately setting off the fireworks stored inside.

Parisi said the chain-reaction explosions that ensued rendered the 3,300-square-foot retail sales floor untenable for human life.

Executives with the Stateline Fireworks business have told state officials they hope to reopen next March.

Parisi and Tollett said the discharged shell could have struck a passing driver on Route 10.