Johnson house fire

Johnson firefighters wrangle floating propane tanks outside a two-apartment building at 399 Lower Main St. that was heavily damaged by fire during the flooding.

An apartment house in downtown Johnson caught fire Friday morning as the owner and one of the tenants were outside, watching flood waters rise in the nearby Lamoille River.

The fire was in a two-apartment building at 399 Lower Main St. in Johnson.

Investigators say seven people lived there, but no one was reported injured, and the fire is not considered suspicious.

The fire displaced eight people, half of them children.

Gary Smith of Hyde Park owns the property.

According to the Vermont Department of Public Safety’s Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit, the report states Hyde and one of the tenants were outside around 7 a.m., watching flood waters coming up to the house, when they heard popping sounds from the rear garage area and immediately saw smoke there.

They opened the door and saw a large fire they were unable to put out with fire extinguishers.

They both evacuated the tenants still inside, and everyone got out safely.

The Johnson Fire Department, already nearby preparing to deal with the day’s flood, quickly responded to the fire. Firefighters were able to put out the fire, but not before high winds whipped up the fire, which significantly damaged the building.

One big concern turned out to be propane tanks located in the floodplain, as a large one broke loose and was floating in the floodwaters in one spot; in addition, two others were at the home that caught fire. But members Johnson’s cold-water rescue squad donned their gear and got both out of the rising water, with the help of Fred’s Energy.

When investigators arrived, the area where the fire was suspected to have started was underwater from the flooding, hampering their investigation until another day.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call investigator Tim Angell at 802-585-9101.

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