Town faces asbestos clean up at fire scene

Fire tape surrounds 9 Barker Street in Bellows falls.

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BELLOWS FALLS — The early Sunday night fire that destroyed a large apartment building on Barker Street will likely end up costing the town thousands of dollars to demolish and clean up the asbestos.

Acting Town Manager Chuck Wise told the Rockingham Select Board Tuesday that he is preparing a health order for the building, which was slowly being renovated by its owner, who lived on the same street. Wise estimated it might cost between $50,000 to $75,000 to clean up the burned-out building.

"It's an asbestos positive building," he said, noting there is airborne "drift" from the building in the neighborhood. He said he would have the health order ready for the board's next meeting, which is in August. "The building is deeply compromised," Wise said.

The fire is under investigation by the Vermont State Police, and is considered suspicious. The building was vacant and did not have electricity. Investigators believe the fire started near the first floor entrance to the building.

The building, at 9 Barker Street, has been vacant for the past four years while Antonio Goncalves and his son renovated it, according to Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis.

Wise said the Barker Street house is not insured; insurance companies are reluctant to insure vacant buildings. Both Wise and Select Board Chairman Gaetano Putignano, who is a Bellows Falls village firefighter, said one of the standing walls is leaning and may need to be demolished quickly. Putignano, who helped fight the fire, said he is concerned "the gable wall ... will end up in the road."

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Wise said it might make sense for the town to "push it in" before the formal demolition and cleanup takes place.

Wise compared the Barker Street fire situation to a fire a couple of years ago on Church Place, which ended up costing the town about $75,000 in cleanup and demolition since the owner had no funds or insurance. The town received a low-interest loan from a special program overseen by the Windham Regional Commission for hazardous clean up.

Wise said the owner of the Barker Street building is cooperating. "We will have a better resolution," Wise said.

The Barker Street building is much bigger than the Church Place building, Putignano said.

Wise said he is working with the Barker Street building owners "on the next phase" of what to do with the building. The cost of demolishing an asbestos-positive building is expensive since the asbestos has to be handled separately, and the debris shipped to a special landfill, Wise said.

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