By Curt Peterson
WOODSTOCK—The Vermont State Police Arson Investigation Unit has declared the Woodstock fire that destroyed the two-story building housing the offices of The Vermont Standard on July 16 as arson.
Evidence taken from the building on July 18 is undergoing a second set of tests and the results are expected soon, said Standard owner Phil Camp.
“I only know that (the Arson Investigation Unit) knows enough about what started the fire that they don’t want to talk about it,” Camp said.
A young couple who occupied an apartment on the second floor had luckily installed smoke alarms, which allowed them to exit the building unhurt. Camp heard that generous townspeople and the Red Cross have donated clothing and other necessities to help the couple survive.
There are two sections to the visible structure.
The Collective, a retail store on the first floor of the stone and brick section, reopened, but the frame section of the building is scheduled to be torn down starting Monday in a razing that will last two or three days, during which traffic on Route 4 will be affected.
Woodstock Police Department dispatcher said there are flaggers, and traffic will be limited to one lane during demolition.
The Collective’s Bob Michaud said the damage to their store was actually minimal, and they will only be closed for the few days of the demolition next door.
On the first floor of the frame section the Pi Brick Oven Trattoria, identified as the starting point of the fire, was totally destroyed in the blaze.
“While the flames and smoke were still coming out of the building my phone rang – it was Amanda Merk, (the executive director of the Norman Williams Public Library) offering space so we could have a place to operate,” Camp said. “As always, the town came together to keep our newspaper going.”
The Standard has continued working from the library since the fire. Meanwhile they’ve leased new quarters at 23 Elm St., across from the Prince and Pauper restaurant.
“We moved furniture in Friday, and the technicians are coming Wednesday to get the systems and telephone operational for us,” Camp said.
In the weeks leading up to the fire The Standard had been making significant changes. Camp said he hired Dan Cotter to be the new publisher, and the full and part-time staff was enlarged to 10 people.
“The new people had just started when we handed them computers and said, ‘Get them out of the office – the building is on fire!’” Camp laughed. “Everyone really pulled together.”
Crisis management isn’t a new thing for the Standard. Founded in 1853 as a temperance publication, the paper suffered its first major fire in 1867, according to its website, “History.” In 1973 press operations were wiped out by a flood, and in 2011 notorious Tropical Storm Irene raised the Ottauquechee River behind their building on Route 4 and literally washed the Standard away. In 165 years the newspaper has never failed to publish a weekly edition.
Camp and his wife Mary Lee, who writes the Business Bits weekly column in The Standard, lost everything in Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.
“It was a tremendous amount of work, but we had just gotten back on our feet both operationally and financially when this fire happened,” Camp said. “We sure didn’t need it. But Irene was like a dress rehearsal for the fire – we knew what to do.”
The Standard has won the Top Small Weekly Newspaper In New England designation from the New England Newspaper and Press Association four consecutive times between 2013 and 2016, according to its website.
The paper has 12,000 readers and covers local news in Barnard, Bridgewater, Hartland, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Reading, Quechee, West Windsor and Woodstock.