RUSSELL — A Pittsfield developer who hoped to cultivate cannabis in an old Russell paper mill is regrouping, after a fire destroyed the property last week.

Jacob Trudeau purchased the Strathmore Mill No. 2 for $15,000 at auction in May 2019, according to reports from The 233,000-square-foot mill, located at 34 Valley View Ave., sits near the Westfield River on 7.5 acres.

Trudeau told The Eagle he was "shocked" and "freaked out" when he got the call about the fire, which began around 8:30 p.m. Friday. He said that while he was driving out to the scene that evening, he could see the flames from a few miles away from the Mass Pike.

The incident, which required a mutual response from more than 100 firefighters, is under joint investigation by the Russell fire and police departments and by State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal. Additional agencies are assisting.

Department of Fire Services spokesperson Jennifer Mieth said that the fire has been deemed "suspicious" and that a reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information that helps solve the case.

Anyone with vital information can call the 24-hour Arson Watch Reward Program Hotline at 1-800-682-9229.

The building, which was not insured, burned for more than 12 hours, as firefighters from Berkshire, Hampshire and Hampden counties worked tirelessly to get it under control.

Trudeau said he is grateful to firefighters and first responders for their efforts, as well as the town officials who he says have "been super helpful" in supporting his restoration effort. He said he had been preparing the space for possible use as a cannabis facility.

"We had done a ton of work there to clean it out," he said.

Trudeau said the part of the building gutted by the blaze was nearly completely cleaned out.

He said he doesn't believe the building was occupied at the time of the fire. "We've had some problems with kids breaking in constantly. It's hard to secure such a massive building," he said.

Trudeau said he knows the cleanup is going to be "very expensive," but added, "I do want to find a path forward. I don't want to leave it for the town and state to deal with."

Jenn Smith can be reached at, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.