Morristown artist Thea Alvin says she and her partner, Michael Clookey, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art when their barn burned down early Monday morning.
The fire broke out at about 3 a.m. Clookey woke up about then, and looked out the window at the barn.
“It was all on fire,” Alvin said.
Six people, including Alvin and Clookey, were at the house when the fire broke out — she rents out space in the farmhouse on her property.
Six fire departments — Elmore, Hyde Park, Johnson, Morristown, Stowe and Wolcott — helped fight the blaze, and Morristown Emergency Medical Services responded too.
The barn was engulfed in flames when his firefighters got there just after 3 a.m., said Shawn Goodell, Morristown fire chief. They didn’t leave until about 11 a.m.
With flames devouring the barn, saving the house was the Morristown Fire Department’s top priority.
Only a small space separated the barn and the house, and fire crews in self-contained breathing apparatus went into the house and between the house and the barn to keep the fire from spreading.
“Quite a bit” of the house will be salvageable, Goodell said.
One of the tenants is Jon Black, who lived in that house for two years; he lives solely off the jewelry he makes and sells at local artisan shops and regional craft fairs. He worked from home, and his studio was lost in the fire and his tools and equipment sustained irreparable damage from water and fire.
His brother says Black is more worried about the other tenants who have even less than he does.
30,000 gallons of water
“There was a lot of fire when we first got there,” said Brad Carriere, Hyde Park’s assistant fire chief.
Goodell estimated 30,000 gallons of water were used to fight the fire, and Carriere says he drove the department’s tanker truck to the Irving gas station on Route 100 to get more water.
It was freezing cold, at about 3 below zero. None of the Hyde Park department’s hoses froze, but some firefighters had problems with their air masks freezing, Carriere said.
“In these temperatures, the biggest thing is our tanker trucks freezing up — the valves in the back after we empty the trucks — or our nozzles freezing up, and the guys getting wet in their gear and freezing. They get exhausted a lot more,” Carriere said.
Mark Walker, Stowe’s first assistant fire chief, says his department got there at about 3:10 a.m.
“It being as cold as it was this morning, it was a little tough. They made a good call on getting a lot of water on there quickly, and keeping it away from the house as much as they could,” Walker said.
The key was to keep water flowing, he said.
“Don’t stop, if you can. Once you get water flowing, you can have a continuous flow of water to keep it so it doesn’t freeze up,” Walker said.
“I think it went well. We did what we had to do to save what we could. Morrisville did an excellent job organizing,” he said.
Goodell thanked the mutual aid partners, as well as Morristown EMS and the American Red Cross.
Vermont State Police are investigating what caused the fire.
The shock of loss
By 8:30 a.m., the fire crews had mostly dispersed, leaving Alvin — the left side of her face smarting with a burn — to survey her home, shell-shocked.
In addition to her partner’s sculpture and pottery, priceless antiques were being stored in the barn, and all were lost, Alvin said. Some had belonged to family members.
Alvin also lost an entire herd of goats, as well as several chickens, in the fire.
She’s lived there for 20 years, and the property is the site of some of her ambitious stonemasonry, including a few writhing and twisting stone arches.
The barn that burned down was built in 1810, and has served as a gallery called Rock, Paper, Scissors for Alvin and her partner’s work. It opened in 2014.
Alvin says she feels lucky she didn’t lose her whole house, but is saddened by the loss of her goats. The two chickens that survived will have to find new housing. Alvin and her partner plan to stay with a friend.
As of this writing, three GoFundMe fundraisers and three YouCaring fundraisers have been set up for Alvin, Clookey and their tenants.