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, looked out the window and saw the barn was on fire, Alvin said.
“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 the property.
Six fire departments — Elmore, Hyde Park, Johnson, Morristown, Stowe and Wolcott firefighters came to fight it, and Morristown EMS responded too.
“The barn was fully involved” 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.
Saving the house was the Morristown Fire Department’s top priority, since the barn was already destroyed when they arrived.
There was just a small space between 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.
“There was a lot of fire when we first got there,” said Brad Carriere, assistant chief of the Hyde Park Fire Department.
Carriere says he was driving the department’s tanker truck to the Irving gas station on Route 100 to retrieve more water.
Goodell estimated 30,000 gallons of water were used to fight the fire.
None of the department’s hoses froze, but some people had troubles 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.
Temperatures got down to around -3 Fahrenheit, Goodell said.
Mark Walker, first assistant chief of the Stowe Fire Department, 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.
The cause of the fire is being investigated by a Vermont State Police fire investigation unit.
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 Clookey's sculpture and pottery, priceless collections of 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 for Alvin and her partner’s work, called Rock, Paper, Scissors. It opened in 2014.
Alvin says she feels lucky not to have lost her whole house, although she’s 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 for now.