Explosion, fire destroy guest house at South Derry compound

Shortly after the explosion on Winhall Hollow Road, the building was engulfed in flames. Photo by Judy Cobb.

By Shawn Cunningham
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Doug Stevens had just backed his truck into the sugar house on Winhall Hollow Road in Londonderry when one of several buildings on the property exploded.

While firefighters were dousing the flames, Stevens, who is caretaker of the property, told The Telegraph that he heard a huge “baah-room”  and “things were flying everywhere and the roof caved in.”

The 1 1/2 story white clapboard house was destroyed.

The explosion and the fire that followed at 2973 Winhall Hollow Road, which occurred shortly before 10 a.m., Thursday, March 14, sent a large column of black smoke high in the air over South Londonderry and brought firefighters from as far away as Rockingham and Manchester.

Yellow smoke rises from the remnants of the house. Photos and video by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

The building was a guest house for the 253-acre West River Farm, which is owned by Elizabeth and Tim Dugan of Chicago. Stevens said that the house had not been lived in regularly for years and that no guests were staying there at the time.

“I assume it was a propane leak, but there was nobody in the house” to know if it was a leak, said Stevens. Stevens had pulled his truck out of sight of the barn where two men were working. Those men “couldn’t see my truck and thought I was in there,” said Stevens. “They came flying up the road to the house.”

In the meantime, Stevens called 9-1-1.

Caretaker Doug Stevens arrived at the sugar house just before the explosion.

The Champion Fire Company, just down the road in South Derry, responded and, before long, the fire had gone to three alarms with fire companies coming from Londonderry, Weston, Wardsboro, Manchester, Winhall, Windham, Peru, Chester, Townshend, Rockingham, Ludlow and Newbrook in Newfane. The Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Squad was also on scene.

Initially there was a call for tankers to supply water, but the property has a pond with a hydrant and the Phoenix Fire Company of Londonderry hooked up to it and began drafting. “It’s good to have water nearby,” said Phoenix Chief Jim Ameden.

By 11:15 a.m. the fire had been substantially

Firefighters continue to attack the smoldering building.

knocked down and an excavator began pulling the wreckage apart so firefighters could put water on hotspots.

Early this afternoon, Champion Fire Department Chief Jeff Duda praised the mutual aid system, saying that he immediately took the call to a third alarm when he saw the column of smoke from 3 miles away.

“All the communities stepped up and sent very good teams,” said Duda.

Duda confirmed that there were no injuries as a result of the incident.

Vermont State Police detectives arrived at the scene this afternoon investigating, but the cause of the explosion and fire has not yet been determined, Duda said.

In video below, a back hoe pulls apart the building debris as firefighters continue to pour water on hotspots in the smoldering heap.

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