Forest, house blazes stretch fire crews

ARLINGTON -- A 10-acre forest fire off Route 313 and a house fire in Sandgate that claimed the life of a dog had area fire departments stretched thin on Saturday.

Arlington Fire Department Chief Jamie Paustian said his department was called to the area west of Eagle Rock off Route 313 in Arlington at around 1:43 p.m. for a reported brush fire. The fire was moving up an embankment into the woods.

"Mutual aid was called quickly as manpower was low and more help was needed as the fire was advancing up the mountainside rapidly," he wrote in an email to the Banner.

He said in an interview that firefighters from Shaftsbury and Manchester, and Shushan, N.Y., fought the blaze using backpack blowers, rakes, and hoses. Approximately 28 firefighters worked to contain the blaze, which was under control by 3:20 p.m.

Paustian said once the fire was no longer spreading firefighters had to clear a large area around it to extinguish wood material smoldering on the inside and clear debris that could rekindle into a new fire.

While this was happening a structure fire was reported on Schoolhouse Woods Road in Sunderland. Paustian said the home was being rented by Bill Walsh Jr., who resided there with two other people. No one was home during the fire but a dog in the house did not survive, having succumbed to smoke inhalation.

Paustian said he diverted about half of the firefighters from the forest fire to the house fire and more departments were summoned to provide aid. The North Bennington Fire Department had firefighters at the structure fire, which became difficult to control because it was spreading into the second floor to an area blocked by furniture. Firefighters from the Bennington Rural Fire Department were then called to provide people equipped with breathing apparatuses to enter the home and help fight the blaze.

Paustian said firefighters reached the house within four minutes of the call and had the fire down within 15 minutes, but were on scene for an additional hour and a half.

Several firefighters suffered heat exhaustion but were treated and released at the scene.

"It was hot," Paustian said. "They had just come off the forest fire to come to this."

"Manpower was probably the biggest issue on both scenes," he added.

The Arlington Fire Department is an all-volunteer organization that serves Arlington, Sandgate, and Sunderland.

The causes of both of Saturday's fires are unknown. Paustian said while Vermont State Police are looking into the possibility of firecrackers being involved in the forest fire, the investigation is ongoing.

"Everything is burning a lot faster now," said Paustian. With little snow to melt in spring and a lack of rain for the past several days the woods, like it was last year at this time, is dry. Paustian said not only thin sticks and twigs are prime for catching fire but thicker material is dried out as well. "This was our first sizable fire," he said, adding that other departments are concerned about the dry weather and having enough people to respond to wild fires.

Paustian said a burn ban is in effect for Arlington, Sandgate, and Sunderland.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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