A town in Vermont's Chittenden County is breathing a sigh of relief after help from the state will allow it to clear snow from roadways after a massive fire destroyed its normal plow fleet.
"It could be a big blow to the town," worried Justin Gelinas of Charlotte, who was checking out the damage left by Wednesday night's fire that left four plow trucks unusable. "People rely on the roads -- you've got to stay safe."
The Vermont Agency of Transportation is now providing loaner plows to ensure the community's roads can be plowed.
Charlotte, which town leaders said has 60 miles of town roads, leases its plows through Lewis Excavating. That business is operated by Charlotte's elected road commissioner, Junior Lewis.
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Fire tore through Lewis' 70-year-old wooden storage facility on Church Hill Road starting Wednesday around 7 p.m., according to the fire department. Flames swallowed four plow trucks along with other vehicles and gear.
Only one older plow could be saved, said Lewis. He added that his experienced team will be able to operate the loaner vehicles from the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Chief Dick St. George of Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services said that the cause of the explosive blaze has not been determined, but it's not believed to be suspicious.
"The building was lost before 911 was called," he added, noting that after fire crews' speedy response time of under five minutes, his prime goal was to contain the fire and to prevent injuries.
No one was hurt in the fire or fighting it, St. George and Lewis said.
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"This is the time you need that equipment," observed Jim Faulkner, the chair of the Charlotte Selectboard, referring to the fact the vehicles were lost to the flames in early winter.
Faulkner said he and other community leaders got right to work on public safety planning as soon as the scope of the emergency became clear.
"We're going to make it happen," Faulkner said of ensuring Charlotte's roads get cleared. "Let's put it this way: we have to make it happen."
Faulkner could breathe a big sigh of relief when the town saw three plows arrive from the Agency of Transportation mid-Thursday afternoon.
Gov. Phil Scott heard about the fire through news reports and asked VTrans to loan Charlotte some spare rigs, Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn said.
That loan needed to happen quickly, Flynn noted, since snow is expected in the Champlain Valley this weekend.
"At the end of the day, we are all in this together, so helping each other out in a time of need is really important," Flynn said in an interview Thursday. "I mean, it's going to snow Christmas Day. What could be more meaningful than to help out of town after such a tragic event as they had last night?"
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There is no specified length of time the spare state trucks are on loan to Charlotte, Flynn said. Given supply chain challenges, he said the agency understands it may take Lewis and the town some time to come up with a permanent plan for a new fleet of trucks.
Faulkner said the town has been talking about building a garage for years, adding that the devastating loss from this fire means those discussions absolutely have to go to the top of the agenda.