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Fire strikes again in Williamsburg - Country Journal - 12/16/2004


Reprinted with permission from the pages of the Country Journal

December 16, 2004

Fire strikes again in Williamsburg

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

For the second tome in two weeks, fire ravages a Williamsburg home.  This time it was the residence of Milton Rice.  In silhouette are Williamsburg Firefighters Dan Banister and Al Everett.

by Lisa Connell

For the second time in two weeks a major fire has occured in town.  Last week, the Demerski and Rome families lost their home on Dec. 1.  This week it was the home of Milton Rice on Dec. 11.  Williamsburg Fire Chief Don Lawton said, "The last couple of weeks have been horrible."

According to Chief Don Lawton, and Police Chief Pat Archbald, who also happens to be a neighbor of Milton's, the call went out at 9 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, Dec. 11, but the fire was already going at good clip and eventually burned completely to the ground.

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

This is the view looking North towards the back of the house.  Nash Hill Road is off camera to the right.

Chief Lawton said the fire was already out of control when the Williamsburg Department arrived on scene, "the fire was traveling throughout the building when we got there," and that it was started due to the wood stove.  "It was just a huge fire.  There was a lot of combustible material.  The building burned in less than 30 minutes."

Williamsburg Police Chief Archbald, and a firefighter, who wished to remain anonymous, said the 90-year old Milton Rice was at home and was preparing for bed when he caught a glimpse of the flames coming out around his wood stove.  He immediately fled from the building.  Chief Archbald said that the Williamsburg Police helped Milton get in touch with his wife Betty and son Jackie and that the Police, along with everyone a the scene offered to help out the family any way that they could.

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

This view of the back of the house shows a lone chimney standing as the only recognizable parts of the home.

As most Williamsburg residents know, the Rice family has deep roots in town and they have always been very active in the town's social life.  Grange member Candy Smith said Milton and Betty Rice have been members of of the Williamsburg Grange for well over 60 years, having joined in 1944.  And Betty is also well known for being a member of the Joel Hayden Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (now mergd with  Greenfield's O.E.S.), was active in the Williamsburg VNA and COA.

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

An officer from the State Fire Marshall's office (standing in bottom center of the picture with his back to the camera) looks over what remains of the house on Nash Hill Road.

As with the last fire, the response rate from the surrounding towns was phenomenal.  There were firefighters from Williamsburg, Northampton, Chesterfield, Goshen, Worthington and Ashfield, along with the Highland Ambulance, and the state fire marshal.  No people of pets were injured during the fire, although everything was destroyed and the family was not insured.

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

Scene lights from the Williamsburg and Goshen engines light up the smoke and steam from the fire.

The effort that the firefighters put in to work on the building was tremendous.  According to Chief Lawton and Chief Archbald, water had to be pumped quite a ways up the very steep hill.  Police Chief Archbald said the police had the bottom of East Main and North St. shut off to traffic, along with the intersection of O'Neil and Nash Hill, so that firefighters could use the fire hydrant in the center of town by Cichy's Garage.

According to one firefighter, there was one Williamsburg fire truck at the base of Nash Hill that pumped the water from the center of town up the hill to Williamsburg's Engine 4 that served as that attack pumper.  Engine 4 was then able to distribute the water to its deck gun and other lines as needed.  By Sunday morning, the firefighters were asked to ration their water because their source was running low.

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

Williamsburg's Engine 4 pumper (foreground) provides water to several supply lines and one deluge gun.  Goshen's Engine 1 pumper (background) boosted the pressures of the water it supplied to the Williamsburg engine that it received from Williamsburg's mini-pumper.  The mini-pumper was stationed at the base of Nash Hill Road near the center of town.

Fire Chief Lawton said in all they were able to pump between 400 and 500 gallons per minute but needed 2,000, and they used about 2,700 ft. of hose from Cichy's all the way up the hill to the Rice home.  During the entire episode from Saturday at 9 p.m. to Sunday at 3 a.m. they probably pumped about 460,000 gallons of water.

He added that because the house was so close to the road, they had to call in Mass. Electric and they cut power to the whole street.

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

Two Williamsburg firefighters carefully aim their hose stream from a deluge under electrical wires running up the street.

Former volunteer firefighter and current Constable Ed Crotty reiterated what most Williamsburg firefighters said during the last fire on Dec. 1. that Northampton has really been a good friend to the town.  He noted that during all the contreversy over Northampton being forced to DEP to build a water treatment plant at the Mountain St. Resevoir, there was a lot of misplaced anger by some residents against Northampton.

But Crotty pointed out that Northampton has always been a good neighbor to the town.  He said, "They come through when we need help.  They have been there for everything we've needed.  They are instantly there.  They're damn good neighbors.

He also pointed out that for both fires, the Women's Auxiliary of the Fire Department has been a great help.  He said when the call went out, the men ran for the trucks, and the wemon ran to start planning.  They started brewing the coffee and rounding up the food.  All of which is a big help since on both occasions, the men have had to pull all night duty out in the cold Hilltown nights.

In addition, Crotty said that it was great to see all the other small towns assist Williamsburg.  "We have a great little fire department and we have a great mutual-aid system.  There were so many firefighters on the scene.  It's great to see all the cooperation we get from all the other towns."

Rice Family Fire 12/11/04

Williamsburg Fire personnel pour water from a deluge gun onto the smouldering remains of the house.  The chimney from the house can be seen in the top left corner of the picture.

(December 11, 2004)