Arson investigators will return to the scene of a downtown Woodstock fire after a specially trained police dog sniffed out the presence of accelerants that may have been used to start Monday's early morning fire, Woodstock Fire Chief David Green said Wednesday.
"The arson team is going back to the building tomorrow to do more investigation," said Green. "Their dog hit on several items" while on the scene Monday.
Green said gasoline is one possible accelerant found by the dog amid the wreckage, but investigators won't know for sure until a chemical analysis is completed. "They sent samples out to the lab."
The fire's cause? "At this time, it is undetermined — but it is suspicious," Green said.
The fire in adjoining wooden and stone structures at 47-55 Central Street began at 3:30 a.m. Monday and burned into the afternoon. It gutted the wooden structure, displacing residents of an upstairs apartment and destroying the Pi Brick Oven Trattoria downstairs.
The fire appeared to begin in the restaurant, Green said. "It was in the part of the building closest to High Street on the first floor."
Photo by Hal De Bona
The fire destroyed about one-third of the office space of The Vermont Standard, the town's weekly newspaper that has never missed an issue in its 165-year history and plans to come out with an edition Friday. The newspaper staff has temporarily set up shop in the Norman Williams Public Library downtown.
Also affected was a gallery, Collective-the Art of Craft. The gallery, along with part of the newspaper operation, was located in the stone part of the building. Those spaces suffered mostly smoke damage.
Working with the Woodstock force is a team of arson investigators, and their trained dogs, from the Vermont State Police and Vermont Fire Marshal. In nearly three decades on the Woodstock force, Green said this was the worst fire he's seen — and he hopes that remains the case.
Fire crews from around the Upper Valley and central Vermont responded to the blaze, including all members of Green's roughly 40-member force who were in town. Two of his firefighters had to be taken to the hospital with heat exhaustion but have since been released. The Woodstock firefighters, along with those from other towns, have won praise in the community for their efforts to quell the stubborn flames.
"I had the easy job," Green said. "They did all the hard work."
Photo by Hal De Bona