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Train station fire ruled accidental

An early morning fire that destroyed the Town of Pulaski’s historic train station apparently was sparked by an electrical wire that shorted and caught an attic beam on fire.
That was Pulaski Fire Marshal Chip Hutchinson’s summation to Pulaski Town Council Tuesday evening of an investigation conducted with the help of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) office in Bristol.
Hutchinson said he isn’t certain what caused the wire to short, but there apparently had been some “issues” with the electrical breakers and lights prior to the fire.
As a result of a conversation with Shirley Bandy, president of Greater Pulaski Alliance (GPA) and director of the Farmers’ Market, Hutchinson said investigators learned breakers had been “tripping” off, and some lights had been dimming and getting brighter over the past few weeks.
The GPA had an office in the train station, and the Farmers’ Market has been held outside the station for several years. The building also housed the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Museum, which lost many items of local history to the blaze.
“The official determination is accidental and probably electrical,” Hutchinson said he was “happy to tell” the council at Tuesday’s regular work session. He said there is no indication the fire “started low (which could suggest the potential of arson).” Although there was an area of low burn, he said it appeared to have been the result of embers falling from the attic area.
The ATF came to Pulaski to assist with the investigation because of the building being listed on the National Historic Register, and, Hutchinson added, because the magnitude of the loss made it impossible for him to conduct the probe alone.
“We called the Bristol Fire Department and got the ATF dog and 12 to 15 ATF agents came to help,” the fire marshal added.
He said it was a difficult task to dig out the large pile of debris, while painstakingly trying to preserve the remaining exterior walls intact. Although the town shop employees helped remove dormers that had caved in, much of the digging had to be done by hand.
“We’re done now, and we’ve released the scene to the town” for insurance agents to review, he said.
Mayor Jeff Worrell said Tuesday that he is “astonished” the cause of the fire was able to be determined in such short order. He noted that the ATF “runs a tight ship. The mayor couldn’t even go in (the fenced-in fire scene) today (Tuesday).”
Hutchinson agreed the ATF maintained tight control over the scene. He noted that while fires are always presumed to be accidental, until arson is ruled out, it is crucial to preserve the scene and prevent contamination or damage to potential evidence.
Fortunately, the fire marshal said the most severe damage was to the eastern section of the building rather than the western section, where most of the historic memorabilia was stored.
Worrell and Town Manager John Hawley indicated they have been “encouraged” by the amount of historic items that have been able to be recovered from the destroyed building.
Worrell said three vehicles were insufficient to haul all of the items away from the scene Tuesday.
Hawley said recovered items are being stored in four different locations and numerous people, including town employees, are working to preserve what has been salvaged.
Experts in the field of historic preservation also are providing guidance in the effort.
Paper and other items that are wet from the firefighting efforts are being frozen if preservation cannot take place right away. He said experts indicated freezing is a good way to prevent further damage.
“A lot of photos are having to be taken out of their frames or lamination,” he said, and some of the railroad items were able to be salvaged.
According to Hawley, he has received numerous calls from other jurisdictions and historic agencies offering assistance and condolences on the town’s loss. He suggested the town develop a tax-exempt fund where donations can be made because a lot of people have offered to make donations to help with the preservation and potential restoration of the station.
“The (town) staff has been tremendous,” Hawley told town council. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do.”
Worrell noted that the area has been fenced off “for obvious safety reasons.” He said the public can view the site from outside the fence, but they should not go inside the fence.
The train station was insured for $580,000, and its contents were insured for $216,000, Assistant Town Manager David Quesenberry said.
Hawley estimated the late 1980’s restoration project at the depot cost between $500,000 and $550,000.

Train station fire ruled accidental

An early morning fire that destroyed the Town of Pulaski’s historic train station apparently was sparked by an electrical wire that shorted and caught an attic beam on fire.
That was Pulaski Fire Marshal Chip Hutchinson’s summation to Pulaski Town Council Tuesday evening of an investigation conducted with the help of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) office in Bristol.
Hutchinson said he isn’t certain what caused the wire to short, but there apparently had been some “issues” with the electrical breakers and lights prior to the fire.
As a result of a conversation with Shirley Bandy, president of Greater Pulaski Alliance (GPA) and director of the Farmers’ Market, Hutchinson said investigators learned breakers had been “tripping” off, and some lights had been dimming and getting brighter over the past few weeks.
The GPA had an office in the train station, and the Farmers’ Market has been held outside the station for several years. The building also housed the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Museum, which lost many items of local history to the blaze.
“The official determination is accidental and probably electrical,” Hutchinson said he was “happy to tell” the council at Tuesday’s regular work session. He said there is no indication the fire “started low (which could suggest the potential of arson).” Although there was an area of low burn, he said it appeared to have been the result of embers falling from the attic area.
The ATF came to Pulaski to assist with the investigation because of the building being listed on the National Historic Register, and, Hutchinson added, because the magnitude of the loss made it impossible for him to conduct the probe alone.
“We called the Bristol Fire Department and got the ATF dog and 12 to 15 ATF agents came to help,” the fire marshal added.
He said it was a difficult task to dig out the large pile of debris, while painstakingly trying to preserve the remaining exterior walls intact. Although the town shop employees helped remove dormers that had caved in, much of the digging had to be done by hand.
“We’re done now, and we’ve released the scene to the town” for insurance agents to review, he said.
Mayor Jeff Worrell said Tuesday that he is “astonished” the cause of the fire was able to be determined in such short order. He noted that the ATF “runs a tight ship. The mayor couldn’t even go in (the fenced-in fire scene) today (Tuesday).”
Hutchinson agreed the ATF maintained tight control over the scene. He noted that while fires are always presumed to be accidental, until arson is ruled out, it is crucial to preserve the scene and prevent contamination or damage to potential evidence.
Fortunately, the fire marshal said the most severe damage was to the eastern section of the building rather than the western section, where most of the historic memorabilia was stored.
Worrell and Town Manager John Hawley indicated they have been “encouraged” by the amount of historic items that have been able to be recovered from the destroyed building.
Worrell said three vehicles were insufficient to haul all of the items away from the scene Tuesday.
Hawley said recovered items are being stored in four different locations and numerous people, including town employees, are working to preserve what has been salvaged.
Experts in the field of historic preservation also are providing guidance in the effort.
Paper and other items that are wet from the firefighting efforts are being frozen if preservation cannot take place right away. He said experts indicated freezing is a good way to prevent further damage.
“A lot of photos are having to be taken out of their frames or lamination,” he said, and some of the railroad items were able to be salvaged.
According to Hawley, he has received numerous calls from other jurisdictions and historic agencies offering assistance and condolences on the town’s loss. He suggested the town develop a tax-exempt fund where donations can be made because a lot of people have offered to make donations to help with the preservation and potential restoration of the station.
“The (town) staff has been tremendous,” Hawley told town council. “They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do.”
Worrell noted that the area has been fenced off “for obvious safety reasons.” He said the public can view the site from outside the fence, but they should not go inside the fence.
The train station was insured for $580,000, and its contents were insured for $216,000, Assistant Town Manager David Quesenberry said.
Hawley estimated the late 1980’s restoration project at the depot cost between $500,000 and $550,000.