Early-morning fire destroys furniture store in Bennington, Vt.


BENNINGTON, Vt. -- More than 100 area firefighters responded to an early-morning blaze at LaFlamme's furniture store on Friday, which resulted in a total loss after hours were spent battling flames in temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees.

Dark smoke was pouring out of the fully engulfed building at 50 Harwood Hill Road when officials responded to the scene about 7:45 a.m. No injuries were reported.

The response was led by the Bennington Rural Fire Department, which immediately called for mutual aid from multiple surrounding departments, including several from nearby Massachusetts and New York, according to fire Chief Shawn Gardner.

Below-freezing temperatures and strong winds made the conditions dificult for firefighters, who remained on the scene for the majority of the day. Traffic was shut down at the intersection of Route 67A and Harwood Hill to allow access for emergency vehicles.

"When it comes to cold weather it hampers everything," Gardner said. "It hampers our men, our equipment -- everything. It definitely wasn't our friend today."

Fire departments from Pownal, North Bennington and Bennington Village, Vt., Williamstown, Mass., and Hoosick, North Hoosick and Hoosick Falls, N.Y., were also dispatched to the scene, where they spent all morning and into the afternoon offering assistance and equipment, Gardner said. Additional departments remained on standby.

Green Mountain Power was credited by police with shutting off all power to lines near the trouble area, and quickly working to redirect power sources to ensure that nearby homeowners and businesses had power reinstated.

Members of the American Legion set up a temporary shelter for rescue workers to take short breaks, while both Dunkin' Donuts and Price Chopper offered food and drinks. Southwestern Vermont Health Care also delivered 60 hot meals to responders through the American Red Cross.

"It just shows what a wonderful, tight-knit community we have here in the Bennington area," said Bennington Police Chief and Safety Director Paul Doucette.

"Pownal was really instrumental in putting out this fire, especially," Doucette said, citing the fire company's experience with drafting water from open rivers and ponds when hydrants are not sufficient.

Pownal Fire Chief Walter Clark said polycarbonate, styrofoam and synthetic fabrics contributed to the intensity of the blaze.

"Almost everything in there -- furniture, mattresses and appliances -- is all made out of oil-based products," he said, "and when that stuff goes up, there's no stopping it."

Once the fire was deemed to be under control, an excavator was brought in by Jerome Construction to tear down the structure and ensure that the fire was completely extinguished.

The cause was still unknown on Friday evening, pending an inspection by state police fire investigators.

"It started in the center-front part of the building [police] told me, and the only thing that is in that area is the furnace, but nothing has been determined," said Christopher LaFlamme, who owns a total of five stores in the area along with his wife, Angela.

Twelve employees worked at the Bennington store, which was scheduled to open at 9 a.m.

The family has operated its longest-standing location in Cambridge, Vt., for 12 years, and also has stores in Granville, Whitehall and Rutland, Vt., the latter of which has been open for just three months.

"This was our biggest store and probably our flagship in terms of sales," LaFlamme said of the company, which employs 28 people in total.

"We have told our employees that we will still be fulfilling their needs, we have enough room to fit them in at our other stores," LaFlamme said.

In the days ahead, the Cambridge location will also be managing previous orders placed through the Bennington store.

"We would just like to send a ‘thank you' from our family to all of the surrounding communities," LaFlamme said. "It was just a remarkable group of people who were very courageous and helpful to us during this time."


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