Firefighters Assess Damage To Historic Brattleboro Building

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(Host) Brattleboro’s main downtown block may reopen to traffic today, as officials continue work to assess the damage caused by a 5-alarm fire in the town’s historic Brooks House.

Officials say the fire started in wiring above the building’s third floor, and that it could have smoldered for as much as a day before the blaze ignited.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) The fire displaced about 48 residential tenants and some key downtown businesses.

Retail operators were allowed to return to their businesses very briefly Tuesday afternoon. One of them was Ana McDaniel, the manager of The Book Cellar, a 60 year old book store on the building’s ground floor.

(McDaniel) "We were able to sort of one by one, in small groups, go into our businesses under the escort of a fire fighter. It’s very, very wet, and our initial impression also is that there’s probably very little that can be salvaged of our stock. Books and paper don’t mix very well with smoke and water."

(Host) Firefighters dumped nearly two million gallons of water on the building while fighting the blaze. Crews and heavy equipment have already begun demolishing the badly burned upper portion of the building.

Vermont’s Red Cross jumped in quickly to provide shelter for the displaced residents, who occupied the upper floors. Case workers have already interviewed most of the residents and provided them with basic recovery needs, including grocery money.

Bruce Pollock is the agency’s deputy chief response officer for Vermont. He says a local assistance gathering is planned for residents this evening.

(Pollock) "And the residents of Brooks House can come there and meet with people about permanent housing. They’ll see about replacement of driver’s licenses, tax documents, social security cards, all of the basic necessities that these people have lost in the fire because all of their records and items were destroyed."

(Host) This morning, local officials are meeting with the retail businesses affected.

Jeff Lewis of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation says it’s too early for any of them to say what they will do.

But he says the fire will have a heavy impact on Brattleboro.

(Lewis)"You’ve lost seven businesses on Main Street the center of the town. You’ve lost seven businesses that were working on Main Street. Part of the town will be a construction site for some time."

Lewis says the 140 year old Brooks House, with its Victorian corner tower, was often used as a symbol for the town.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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