The charred remains of a Ford Explorer sit outside the shell of the building that once housed Blodgett Auto in Bellows Falls. (Dom Poli/Reformer)
The charred remains of a Ford Explorer sit outside the shell of the building that once housed Blodgett Auto in Bellows Falls. (Dom Poli/Reformer)
Friday January 4, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The second-alarm fire that ravaged Blodgett Auto on Wednesday started when some gas was accidentally spilled during a fuel pump change on a van, according to the business owner's wife.

Calistie Blodgett, whose husband Bob owns the auto shop next to NAPA Auto Parts store on The Island, said the fire engulfed the van almost immediately before taking off and destroying a section of the building Bob rents from Paul Anderson, a Washington state landlord.

Calistie said her husband, his employees, as well as a man who rents an apartment in the building and that man's dog, all made it out safely. She said the Vermont & The New Hampshire Upper Valley American Red Cross is assisting the apartment resident. Calistie said on Thursday she and Bob were waiting at the scene to meet one of Anderson's representatives, who also maintains the building. Bob said he does not have insurance, but Anderson does.

Bellows Falls Fire Chief Bill Weston said his department was alerted to the fire Wednesday by numerous phone calls as well as a village police officer who was on patrol and saw the smoke. Weston said multiple fire departments responded to the scene and two firefighters from a department other than his own were sent to the hospital with injuries that appeared minor.

"Anytime there's a fire and (the temperature) is below freezing, it always makes it harder," he said, adding that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and the cold weather causes firefighters to get fatigued more easily. "The fire got a really good head start."

The fire chief said when members of his department arrived they found that live power lines had fallen off the building, which made controlling the blaze even more difficult. Weston said he was not sure if the fallen lines resulted in power outages for anyone.

The Blodgetts were at the scene with two employees Thursday morning and early afternoon, walking around and taking stock of what had happened. Bob was visibly distraught and when asked what he had learned about the fire since Wednesday, replied, "That I lost everything I've worked for."

Calistie said 10 motorcycles, including four or five Harley-Davidsons, were in the shop when the fire broke out and just one was saved. She said one of the motorcycles was insured.

She said she believes the fire began at approximately 10 a.m. on Wednesday, when she was stuck at her Grafton home with a broken-down car. She said she had to start pounding on neighbors' doors to ask for a ride to the shop.

The two-bay garage where Bob Blodgett and his employees repaired vehicles, which takes up about a third of the old building, was caved in and blackened by the ferocious fire and was nothing but rubble. A slight scent of burnt equipment hung in the air, though it was masked by the smell of vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke of individuals at the scene. The charred remnants of a Ford Explorer and Pontiac van outside the shop gave off the aura of a war zone.

A excavator was at the scene moving around the unsalvageable vehicles.

The vehicles of everyone at the scene -- the Blodgetts and their employees, Weston, a Bellows Falls Police officer and some state inspectors -- cluttered the parking lot of NAPA, the Our Place Drop-In Center and The Island "Oh" Zone thrift store, which all sit near Blodgett Auto.

Lorraine Nelson, who works for Vermont Associates and trains as a prep cook at Our Place, said she was out of town the day of the fire but could not believe her eyes on Thursday.

"That's just horrible. I feel so sorry for him and his family. ... That was his living," she said standing outside Our Place, staring at the rubble. "Your heart goes out when something like this happens."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.