Fire at ChemCo building deemed suspicious

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BELLOWS FALLS — Police are investigating a fire believed to be intentionally set in the vacant ChemCo building on Paper Mill Road.

Bellows Falls Fire Chief Shaun McGinnis said someone appeared to have piled wooden pallets found inside the old industrial building and deliberately set them on fire late Monday afternoon. He said a juvenile is suspected of starting the fire and he said "the police department had a name" and would continue the investigation.

"It was a small fire and obviously it was intentional," he said. "It's just the idea of someone starting a fire that is troubling."

He said emergency crews initially had trouble responding to the fire because of the locked gate that restricts access to the building, which is at the end of the road. He said crews were prepared to cut open the gate, but the key to the gate was finally found.

McGinnis said Bellows Falls firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze. No one was hurt and there was little or no damage to the large, masonry structure, he said.

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The ChemCo building has long been missing its doors and windows. At one time, its owner had plans to turn the former paper mill and furniture factory into a hotel. But nothing has come of those plans from Stephen McAllister, a former resident now living in the Baltimore area.

The village of Bellows Falls has been trying to get McAllister to do something to the building to make it less accessible — such as boarding up the gaping holes, but so far, McAllister has ignored requests under the village's nuisance ordinance.

A few years ago, former Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark hoped to turn the vacant structure into a federal detention facility, dubbed Liberty Mill.

McGinnis said while the fire itself posed little danger, the building was dangerous to the firefighters because the floors were full of holes and deteriorated.

"There are multiple holes in that floor. That's the real danger," he said. "It could have lead to something," he added, noting the building adjoins a residential neighborhood.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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