Fire crews in Vermont’s Chittenden County had a long, cold day fighting a massive industrial fire—with chemical explosions—at a Colchester business.
Flames tore through J&B Truck Center, a sales and maintenance facility for large commercial vehicles. The emergency Wednesday morning drew fire departments from across the county.
“It’s just devastating,” employee Mark Patch said.
Fire investigators said a truck that runs on compressed natural gas was in the shop for work when something went wrong and a line ruptured. That truck is the focus of the ongoing fire investigation.
The exact cause of the fire has not yet been pinpointed, Colchester Police said Wednesday afternoon, but the incident is not considered suspicious.
The building and much of its contents—including six large vehicles—were heavily damaged or destroyed, police said.
Patch made it out safely from J&B before the flames erupted, and was sad to see the family-owned business burn.
“It’s very upsetting,” Patch said.
“The important part is everyone got out safe and everyone’s okay,” added Amanada German, Patch’s wife, who rushed to the scene when she heard about the fire.
Patch said the employees followed their training and immediately got out.
Shortly thereafter, explosions started: of fuel and materials used in truck repair.
Battalion Chief Erik Haversang of the Colchester Center Fire Dept. said an interior wall kept the blaze from spreading throughout the entire building, meaning some equipment and many records will be salvageable.
“It could’ve been significantly worse,” Haversang noted. “More of the building could’ve burned, and certainly someone could’ve been hurt, or worse, died in this fire—no doubt.”
Because of all the potentially blinding smoke, part of Interstate 89 North near the fire scene was shut for much of the morning, reopening before noon.
A school just over the town line with Winooski also kept kids inside during the firefight.
Colchester Police said they were considering closing down part of the industrial park or conducting evacuations of neighboring properties.
The park is home to one of the region’s busiest stores—Costco—but the wind was blowing smoke and flames the opposite way, meaning evacuations were not deemed necessary.
“We may have had to close down Costco, some other businesses in the area,” said Chief Doug Allen of the Colchester Police Dept. “As it was, we were able to keep those businesses open.”
With all the solvents and fuels inside the truck maintenance bays, fire crews were scrubbed down with soap and water, to remove environmental hazards from their boots and pant legs.
Vermont’s state hazardous materials team was on-site, too, working to contain chemicals from the building, to reduce runoff into nearby wetlands.
A specialized environmental clean-up crew was also brought in to assist the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in assessing and removing potential contamination from the environment.