BRATTLEBORO — Investigators are seeking the public’s help in determining whether a series of October fires are linked.
Since Oct. 2, when an abandoned mobile home, vehicle and boat on Shag Bark Hill in Putney were destroyed by fire, there have been a total of six suspicious fires in Windham County, including one that caused $500,000 worth of damage to Rod’s Towing and Repairs on Main Street in Putney.
On Friday afternoon, Detective Sgt. Matthew Hill of the Vermont State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit said the six fires were classified as having human involvement — but that doesn’t mean they were intentionally set.
“There is a human element to all of these fires,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it was on purpose. It could have been accidental.”
While investigators are still putting together the pieces of the fire that destroyed Rod’s Towing, Hill said some of the other fires might have been related to people trying to stay warm and dry.
“We have had some cold and damp weather,” he said. “We wouldn’t rule out that somebody might have been trying to protect themselves from the weather.”
Hill said it’s important to stress that the fire investigation unit needs people to come forward with any information they have.
“It is difficult enough to get people to tell us what happened,” he said. “We don’t want people to be afraid. We just want them to come forward to help us solve the fires.”
On Oct. 9, firefighters responded to both Rod’s and the report of a chair on fire at the end of a driveway on Bunker Hill Road in East Dummerston.
On Oct. 15, Marlboro firefighters responded to a fire at a vacant building on Town Hill Road and then on Oct. 22 to another fire at the abandoned Golden Eagle Motel on Route 9. Both fires were a result of “direct human involvement,” according to information from the fire investigation unit.
On Thursday, the Marlboro Fire Department responded to a third fire, this one a structure at an unoccupied camp on Stratton Mountain Road. The fire destroyed the structure, according to a statement, and is currently under investigation. Investigators are working to determine which, if any, of the fires are connected.
“It’s not unusual to have six fires in one month across the state,” Hill said. “It is unusual to have six fires in a pretty small geographic area.”
Hill also said investigators are still hoping to talk to folks who might have spotted suspicious activity around Rod’s at about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 9. Surveillance footage shows two vehicles passing by the location about that time, but investigators have not heard from the drivers.
“These vehicles were not leaving the scene,” stressed Hill, but the drivers might have seen something that could help solve the case.
Investigators are asking anyone with information about these fire events to contact the Vermont State Police in Westminster at 802-722-4600. Tips can be submitted anonymously by texting keyword VTIPS to 274637 (CRIMES). Tips can also be submitted online by using the link: vsp.vermont.gov/tipsubmit.
People with information can also contact the Vermont Arson Tip Award Program at 800-32-ARSON. The Arson Tip Award Program is a separate entity from the state police, and through funding from insurance companies, offers a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest in this case.