By MEGHAN PIERCE
About 100 firefighters responded to assist the Jaffrey Fire Department Sunday when a blaze started in the vacant W.W. Cross building.
Jaffrey Fire Chief David Chamberlain said Sunday night that the five-alarm fire in the old factory building is suspicious and under investigation.
Firefighters were first called to the scene, 39 Webster Street in Jaffrey, at around 5:43 p.m., Chamberlain said on scene around 11:40 p.m. on Sunday. Multiple people called in to report the fire.
“My assistant chief witnessed a large plume of black smoke quite a ways away from the scene. So at that point, we went to a second-alarm. Upon arrival he confirmed we had fire through the roof,” Chamberlain said. “We had heavy fire that had already breached the roof. So we went to an additional alarm at that point.”
Due to the heat of the day, Chamberlain said he raised it to a five-alarm fire call.
“With the heat, we brought in extra people,” he said. “The crews were getting hit pretty hard with the hot temperatures.”
As midnight neared firefighters were still attacking the fire from above the building, shooting water through the roof from ladders trucks as well as using an excavator inside the building.
“Currently, right now, we have an excavator that is in the building, tearing the building down and we are using aerial pieces with water on ladder pipes and some crews at the rear of the building to extinguish and overhaul the building,” Chamberlain said.
Tanker trucks were bringing water to the scene from Cheshire Pond on Fitch Road and the dam on Main Street, he said. “As well as, we had a large diameter five-inch hose run all the way from Main Street to the scene,” he said. “We initially were on the hydrant system for the town, but we were draining that fairly fast so we had to get off of that system.”
The 98,952 square foot W.W. Cross building was built in 1920 as a warehouse, according to online tax records. Larry Thibeault and Steven Thibeault of Amherst are listed as the current owners of the building.
The building has been vacant for about ten years, Chamberlain said.
“We’ve had some issues with the place not being secured,” Chamberlain said. “The property owner did secure it about a year ago, did a very good job at it. But then there were some vandals that got into it again and the town had been working to try to get the landowner in again to try to secure it. So we’re not sure what started the fire this time.”
Officials from the State Fire Marshal’s office were on scene Sunday evening to begin an investigation and plan to return Monday, he said.
“At this point it is suspicious. Obviously, there was no electricity to the building. The building was unoccupied, so we’re looking at some kind of suspicious cause at this time,” Chamberlain said.
At around 11:40 p.m., Chamberlain said, the 80 to 100 firefighters and 30 to 40 vehicles — ranging from ladders trucks to tankers and engines — were likely to stay on scene for the next two hours to continue to knock down the fire. After the fire is knocked down most firefighters would be released and a crew would remain through the night to ensure the fire remains out. He added the response from the more than 25 departments is greatly appreciated.
“Thank you to everyone who showed up,” Chamberlain said. “I’m sure people would have rather have spent their Father’s Day evening doing something else, but we appreciate all the help from all the surrounding communities and the citizens who helped us when we first got here from bringing water to the local businesses who have showed up with food and assisted us in that way. It is so greatly appreciated.”
Firefighters from around the region respond to a five-alarm fire at 39 Webster Street in Jaffrey Sunday night. Daylight photos were taken around 8 p.m. After dark photos were taken between 11 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. All photos by MEGHAN PIERCE