Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington arson

A letter of condemnation from the Great Barrington Board of Health is taped to one of the doors at 232 Stockbridge Road after a fire this month that police now say was set by the property owner in an attempt to defraud an insurance company.

GREAT BARRINGTON — It was the silver Prius that made Harry Sano an arson suspect and closed the case for police.

Surveillance cameras from two gas stations and a Goodwill store apparently captured images of a silver Prius heading toward the scene of the fire last month at 232 Stockbridge Road — a building that used to house “Wonderful Things,” the eclectic yarn store that he and his wife opened in 1973.

The building, with four vacant rental units upstairs, had been deemed by the town as uninhabitable.

When the building burned on July 7, the couple was still locked in a battle with the Board of Health over a slew of violations — the board had been monitoring the building after a handful of the Sanos’ 14 tenants were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning four years ago. A real estate sign recently was planted, and the owners of two abutting properties were already eying the building for purchase.

And now Sano, 85, is facing trial for allegedly setting fire in what investigators say were hopes of an insurance payout. He was arraigned July 26 in Southern Berkshire District Court. His next court date is set for Sept. 13.

‘Case closed’

When firefighters arrived at the building just before 8 p.m., they knew something was amiss. They found multiple fires on the first floor connected by “trailers” to spread the fire and made of “rope, wall board joint tape, paper, wallpaper, other ordinary combustible Class A materials and ignitable liquids,” according to the report by a state police fire investigator.

These trailers connected various “fuel packages” made of materials including wood, paper, cardboard and paraffin wax squares — which the shop used to sell — piled up “for the fire to rapidly grow and spread upward.” Parts of the ceiling had been punched through to allow the fire to spread up and into void spaces, the report says.

A candle served as the “timing device” that lit the fire.

Surveillance video from the Shell gas station across the street showed the silver Prius pulling into the building parking lot on the day of the fire at 12:38 p.m., and Sano exiting it, then leaving in the car two hours later.

The next day, police met Sano and his wife, Deborah, at the scene to release the property back to them. The Sanos’ arrived in a silver Prius.

Then came a meeting of the couple with investigators at the town police station. There were conflicting stories, disbelief, a viewing of the surveillance video, a quiet agreement from Harry Sano “with what was being said,” and a search warrant at the couple’s home that turned up “several items of evidence related to the arson.”

Sano was arrested and charged with arson, presenting a false insurance claim and burning a building to defraud insurers, and then released on his own recognizance.

At the end of the report, the investigator marked the probe, “Case closed.”

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

On Twitter @BE_hbellow.