Thursday April 26, 2012

WEST STOCKBRIDGE -- A desolate morning-after fire scene greeted patrons of the town's Public Market, a center of commerce on Main Street, as insurance adjusters and public safety officials sifted through the damage to the second-floor apartment and the general store.

As market owner Randy Burkhart of Dalton put it on Wednesday morning: "This is not what you want to wake up to."

The store sustained water damage, and Burkhart hopes to reopen it in several weeks.

The building is estimated to have been constructed in the late 1800s, said Fire Chief Peter Skorput. He also said faulty electrical wiring set off the fire.

The building's only resident, who has declined to give her name, said she is staying with friends while searching for a new home. She told The Eagle she woke up at around 8:30 on Tuesday night to "an apartment that was unbelievably smoky. I walked to the window, I was in shock."

After kicking out a screen, she recalled waiting on an overhang briefly "before taking a tumble."

West Stockbridge Police Officers Joe Bastow and Phil Smit were credited by eyewitnesses as having rescued the resident.

Although she was taken to Berkshire Medical Center on Tuesday night, she said she was uninjured. "It was the smoke that got me."

"Our insurance guy said it's not that bad," said building owner Bernard Fallon, reached by phone on his way to work at a school for homeless youngsters in Phoenix, Ariz.

"But the upstairs is pretty well shot, there's smoke damage everywhere and water filtered down to the store, so I don't think any of the merchandise can be saved," Fallon said.

He had planned to fly back to the Berkshires on Wed nesday night.

"It's a hard thing, tough to talk about," Fallon said. "But knock on wood, insurance will take care of everything."

No estimates of the damage were available late Wednes day because adjusters continued to gather information.

Fallon, whose grandfather Francis Fallon opened the market in 1930, said "the town loves the store."

"Randy has been an outstanding tenant, so we want to give him everything possible so he can get back to where he needs to be," Fallon said.

Having bought the building from his stepfather Michael Skorput in 2005, Fallon said, "We've got to get the store going again."

Burkhart was on the verge of selling the business to Timothy Walsh of Richmond, who was unreachable for comment on Wednesday.

"Tim is so excited about what he wants to do there," Fallon said.

Burkhart said he believes Walsh remains interested in going through with the
purchase.

After inspecting the premises, Fire Chief Skorput, a 26-year veteran of the town's 12-man volunteer department, confirmed that the blaze was caused by faulty wiring in an electrical outlet.

"We had a hell of a crew here last night knocking it back," he said. "I was getting nervous because these buildings are so close together and the fire started coming through the roof."

He credited the Lenox Fire Department's ladder truck as "a big help," along with crews from Richmond, Great Bar rington, Housatonic and Hinsdale -- about 55 firefighters in all. The fire, called in at 8:29 p.m, was out by 9:30 to 9:45, Skorput said.

"Structurally, the building is in good shape," he added.

Joe Roy, the owner of the adjacent building and business, The Floor Store, ex pressed relief at the close call.

"The town needs places like this," Roy said. "We've only got a couple left. We've got a lot of empty spaces -- too many right now. A lot of stores haven't made it. But there's a lot of positive stuff, though we have a lot of re-growing pains right now."

"I was really proud of the firemen and the police department," Roy added.

"It takes something like this to make you realize how important they are," said Burkhart.

Roy recalled that the building next door at 12 Main St. now housing his store burned down about 30 years ago.

"We bought it and rebuilt it, it was just a burnt-out hole in the ground. That's why we call it the phoenix building: it rose from the ashes, literally."

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto