BRATTLEBORO -- Local and state police are working with fire fighters to investigate an arson fire that occurred early Tuesday morning at the corporate offices for the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant along Old Ferry Road.
Sometime before 3 a.m., an unknown number of people entered the building through a broken window and started a fire somewhere in the building's first floor, according to press release from the Brattleboro Police Department.
Fire alarms went off at about 3:03 a.m., and a building's sprinkler system was activated which contained the blaze until members of the Brattleboro Fire Department arrived on scene, said Fire Chief Michael Buccossi.
"When the first crew arrived the sprinkler system was active and there was smoke in the first floor of the building," he told the Reformer. "Fire damage was minor as we were able to extinguish it in a short amount of time, but there was moderate water and smoke damage to the building."
Emergency responders from Rescue Inc. and Brattleboro Fire Department responded to the scene and remained there for more than 12 hours.
When it was discovered, the fire was quickly moved to a second alarm and cover trucks from Putney, Chesterfield, N.H., Hinsdale, N.H., and Keene N.H., were dispatched.
As the fire was under control the Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Division and a K-9 unit were also called to the scene.
No one was injured as a result of the fire but the building is unusable and it will take some time to asses the extent of the damage, said Larry Smith, manager of communications for Vermont Yankee.
Smith said the three-story building houses the nuclear plant's communication equipment, its public relations office and emergency response center. The nuclear reactor itself is about 17 miles south of the offices in the town of Vernon.
Although tensions have been high regarding the continued operation of the nuclear power plant, this was the first time someone had put people's lives at risk, Smith said. He added that he was shocked that someone could be so selfish as to put their agenda before someone's lives.
"There's never been anything someone's done that was malicious or that was meant to harm any of the employees," he said.
A couple of years ago Smith said a group wrapped the three-story building in caution tape and tapped black plastic bags against all the windows to simulate that some radiological accident had occurred.
Entergy, which owns and operates the nuclear power plant, sued the state of Vermont in April over whether the Legislature overstepped its bounds when passing legislation to prevent the plant from operating past March 2012.
Dan DeWalt, who wants to see the plant shut down and has advocated for non-violent civil disobedience in opposition to its operation, said there is "absolutely no excuse" for such an action.
"There is nothing good about this at all," he said. "If we resort to violence, we automatically lose our credibility. The whole reason we are credible is because we have been really careful to do everything by the book."
DeWalt said setting fire to a building as a form of protest is "highly counter-productive."
"We're trying to win allies here," he said. "I don't think an act of violence or of destruction can win allies. The power of our movement is in our non-violence."
Bob Stannard, spokesman for Citizen Awareness Network, which also opposes Yankee's continued operation, agreed with DeWalt, though he took the opportunity to take a poke at Entergy.
"We're used to these guys having accidents," he said.
However, even though he is "no fan of Entergy," he said he's also not a "fan of people breaking the law."
"This whole process is all about playing in the confines of the rules of the game," Stannard said.
Setting a fire is pointless and not to be condoned, he added.
"It doesn't accomplish anything," said Stannard.
Sally Shaw, of Gill, Mass., who admitted she is guilty of being "overly theatrical" in her opposition to the plant's continued operation -- in April 2009 she threw compost at Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Entergy representatives during a public meeting -- said setting fire to Yankee's headquarters does a disservice to those who have worked for years to see the plant shut down.
"It's not good," she said. "I don't approve of it."
However, Shaw questioned whether it was "an inside job" designed to swing public opinion into the Entergy camp.
"I've learned to question everything," she said.
Chad Simmons, of the Safe and Green Campaign, a grassroots organization working to close and replace the plant, said he and the members wanted to express their relief that no Entergy employees were harmed during the fire.
"We absolutely do not condone any acts of violence or destruction of property," he said. "These actions are deplorable and are completely counter to our values and goals."
During Tuesday's Brattleboro Selectboard meeting, Chairman Dick DeGray said the community has to band together and make sure ‘some frivolous act' does not define Brattleboro or its residents.
"That is unacceptable in our community, whether you are for it or against it, you put our firefighters in danger," he said.
Neighbors told the Reformer that they neither heard or saw anything until fire trucks appeared on scene.
At this time the investigation is ongoing and no further information is being released.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact the Brattleboro Police Department at 802-257-7950, the TIPSLINE at 802-251-8188, Det. Sgt. Matt Nally of the Vermont State Police at 802-316-6395 or the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program at 1-800-322-7766.
Bob Audette contributed to this story.
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.