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Five-alarm fire levels historic building

Crews from throughout southern Worcester County fought Thursday night's fire at the former Charlton Woolen Mill. David Dore. (click for larger version)
July 27, 2012
CHARLTON — A five-alarm fire engulfed the warehouse at the old Charlton Woolen Mill Thursday night, reducing it and everything stored inside to rubble, damaging neighboring buildings, and sending six firefighters to the hospital.

The fire at 6 City Depot Road was reported around 9 p.m. Thursday, July 26, and blazed through the night.

According to Charlton Fire Capt. Ralph Harris, 20 different fire departments, coming from as far as Rhode Island and Western Massachusetts, aided in battling it.

Local fire departments that responded included Auburn, Dudley, East Brookfield, Leicester, Northbridge, Southbridge, Spencer, Warren, West Brookfield and Sturbridge.

Harris said the Oxford Fire Department covered the Charlton station as the fire raged overnight.

He said about 75 firefighters worked overnight to extinguish the flames and protect surrounding buildings, and six of them were sent to nearby hospitals for carbon monoxide poisoning. All were released by Friday morning.

Harris said water and access issues made fighting the fire especially difficult.

"There's a pond on one side and a river on the other side," he said of the building's location. "And it's very close to other buildings."

With no municipal hydrants to draw from, firefighters hauled water in tankers from nearby Glen Echo Lake.

"The municipal hydrants are not charged with water, so we draw from tankers, that's how we've always operated in Charlton," Harris said.

Tankers from numerous municipalities were brought in.

Harris said the building housed tenant space, and inside were cars and propane tanks, which caused a few explosions overnight. Neighboring buildings were doused in water to prevent the fire from spreading, but the mill in front of the warehouse suffered significant heat damage.

"Every fire presents its own challenges. Despite the issues, the guys adapted and overcame and prevented it from spreading," Harris said.

The Charlton Woolen Mill is at least a century old, somewhat of a landmark in town. On Friday morning, onlookers taking in the still-smoking rubble couldn't believe the historic building was gone.

"It's amazing how fast it came and went," said Gage Inslee, who grew up down the road from the mill and now lives in Sturbridge. "My aunt used to have a building inside the factory, I have a least 30 years of memories here."

Inslee's wife, Kim, said they heard about the fire Thursday night at their home.

"I heard it on the radio, then it was on Facebook then Twitter — everything just started going crazy. We had to come down here this morning to see it," she said.

Harris said the cause of the fire is still unknown and is being investigated by the state fire marshal's office.

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