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Fire Destroys Work of 3 Generations

Source: Union-News (Springfield, MA)

Author: FRED CONTRADA

WESTHAMPTON, MA – Firefighters from seven communities battled a blaze at a remote homestead yesterday, but failed to save the 19th century house and adjacent buildings.

Walter and Mary Challet lost nearly everything they had at their property at 315 Northwest Road including a barn, garage and the two-story home that Mary Challet’s grandfather built in the mid-1800s. Also destroyed was the $20,000 payloader that Walter Challet used in the gravel operation he had carried on for 30 years.

“We got out with the clothes on our backs and a couple of pairs of slacks,” said Mary Challet, 68.

Challet said she noticed the fire in the garage at about 11 a.m. and called 911. The Westhampton Fire Department, a volunteer force, showed up within minutes and found the barn and adjoining garage engulfed in flames, according to Westhampton Fire Chief Richard W. Tracy.

“I immediately called for mutual aid from Chesterfield,” Tracy said.

Eventually, firefighters and equipment from Worthington, Goshen, Williamsburg, Northampton and Easthampton arrived at the scene, along with Hampshire County Fire Defense, the State Fire Marshall’s Office and Red Cross workers.

The fire produced enormous clouds of black smoke that could be seen from miles away. By noon, the garage and barn had been reduced to glowing embers, but the gravel loader was still blazing as firefighters struggled to save the house. Because there are no water lines in the vicinity, pumper trucks had to fill up at a beaver pond a mile and a half down the road. Firefighters doused the side of the house facing the barn.

“We actually thought we had it saved, but the fire had already gotten into the attic,” Tracy said.

As the Challets and neighbors looked on, smoke began to seep through the metal roof of the house. Soon it was pouring out of the eaves. A firefighter on a ladder was engulfed by smoke as he cut a hole near the roof in an effort to ventilate the building. It was no use.

“The fire was in the attic and concealed spaces,” said Northampton Fire Chief Brian Duggan, who was on the scene with firefighters and equipment.

“You can only operate up to the extent of the resources you have,” Duggan added, noting the distance to the nearest water source.

Walter Challet, 65, said he had gone to Burt Ford Tractor in Easthampton to buy parts for his payloader.

“I came back and everything was in flames,” he said. “I don’t know what the heck happened.”

Firefighters have not yet determined the cause of the blaze. Challet said there was a fire in a woodstove in his garage, “but it was just about out when I left.”

Challet did not know if he is insured for his losses.

Mary Challet managed to save the family’s cockatoo which was taken in by a neighbor. Several people in the rural neighborhood were on hand to comfort the Challets and offer assistance.

“I can’t believe how wonderful they are,” Mary Challet said. She also praised the firefighters for their efforts.

“I wish I could offer them some coffee or something, but it’s all in the house,” she said.

Although they were unable to save the house, firefighters managed to get some furniture, including an antique pump organ, out before they drenched the building with water. Among many other items, the Challets lost all the Christmas presents that had bought for their grandchildren. Walter Challet said the extended family had Thanksgiving together in the house just days ago.

“It don’t look like we’re going to have Christmas here, does it?” he said.

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