A complex investigation is underway into what sparked a large fire early Tuesday morning in White River Junction, Vermont.
The flames destroyed or severely damaged four buildings, housing nine businesses, according to an early assessment from the Hartford Fire Department.
“We were lucky,” sighed Chief Scott Cooney of the Hartford Fire Department, in reference to the fact no firefighters, tenants of the buildings, or neighbors were injured in the blaze.
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Fire departments from nine communities in Vermont and New Hampshire teamed up to bring the raging fireball under control, Chief Cooney noted.
The first crews arrived at 3:30 a.m. and were still dousing hotspots seven hours later.
“Most of the Upper Valley was here in a second-alarm fire,” Cooney said. “And we're grateful we all work well together.”
Neighbors told necn they woke to the sound of explosions.
Investigators explained part of the property had heavy equipment servicing bays, which contained drums of stored waste oil and propane tanks.
“At four o'clock in the morning, I was sleeping pretty good,” recalled neighbor Allen Swasey. “But when I woke up, it was pretty loud!”
“I watched one of their trucks explode,” neighbor Andrew Finney said, describing the sight of a massive fireball. “That was unique, and that made another boom. I mean, I've never seen a truck explode, ever.”
A heating oil and propane depot for the company Simple Energy sits several hundred feet from where the flames tore through the buildings.
A manager of the operation told necn the company was alerted to the fire and promptly initiated safety protocol to protect the stored fuel from exploding.
The employee said the depot wasn't ever in any real danger, because the fire departments were able to contain the exposure of the flames, which didn’t get close enough to the fuel storage area to cause problems.
As fire investigation experts from both Hartford and the Vermont Department of Public Safety sift for clues about the cause and origin of the fire, property owners and tenants now have the tough job of starting over.