Three cruisers belonging to the small police department serving Thetford, Vermont, were destroyed in an early-morning fire Friday, Vermont State Police investigators said. The three vehicles made up the police department's entire fleet, noted Chief Doug Robinson of the Norwich Police Department, who's helping out Thetford as an interim administrator until the community's new chief starts in a few weeks.
Vermont State Police fire investigator Det. Sgt. Steve Otis called the fire suspicious, but could not immediately pinpoint a cause. The investigation is ongoing, he explained. "I think it does have quite an impact," Otis said, describing the loss of vehicles meant for public safety uses. "It's unfortunate."
The burned-out skeletons of the cars, with their front tires gone and seats melted, were towed from the department on Route 113 Friday. They had been parked there after the department's employees all went home for the night. The Thetford Police Department serves about 2,600 residents of the Orange County town, a town official told New England Cable News.
The Thetford Fire Department was able to put out the fires in time to prevent the flames from spreading to the adjacent town offices, Otis said.
One of the first steps investigators took was looking for surveillance video, but the neighboring properties don't have cameras, Otis said. He hopes anyone who may have witnessed the fire, or anything out of the ordinary around 2 a.m. Friday will call the State Police arson tip line at 1-800-32-ARSON. Otis pointed out while the fire has been termed suspicious, it has not been determined to have been arson. More investigation still needs to be done, he said.
Damage to the vehicles and their contents has been estimated at $100,000, State Police said. "This is a very big blow," Robinson told NECN.
Robinson knows what it's like to lose his whole fleet to fire. Norwich's three cruisers were destroyed Thanksgiving Day in 2012 in a blaze that was ruled not suspicious. No exact cause was determined there, but many assumed a mechanical or electrical failure ignited one parked car, with flames then spreading to other vehicles.
"I'm not thinking it's a coincidence, but I'll reserve my judgment until I hear the report from the fire investigators," Robinson told NECN, referring to the loss of two police fleets to fires in neighboring towns. "But if you ask me, it's too big a coincidence."
Otis told NECN he and other investigators will now pull the files from the Norwich fleet fire, and compare them with the one in Thetford to see if there are any similarities.
Nearby towns are lending police vehicles to Thetford so the department can ensure coverage, Robinson said. He noted the same gesture was extended to Norwich after its cruisers were destroyed.
A special select board meeting will be held Saturday, October 18, at 10 a.m. at the Thetford Town Hall, according to a notice posted outside the building Friday. Items specific to the police department, including the cruiser fires and shift schedule, will be discussed, the notice said.