By Julia Purdy
Duane Atwood of Wallingford, 38, was painting a two-story house at 69 Baxter St. in Rutland Friday April 23 when a neighbor called out that the house was on fire.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” he told the Mountain Times. Then he saw smoke billowing from the back of the house. “I panicked, I froze up,” he recalled, but quickly noticed that the family on the first floor were apparently asleep after third shift and unaware of the danger. He rushed downstairs, kicked in the door and got the family out, with their twin babies. In the meantime, he called 9-1-1.
No one living in the second floor apartment was apparently at home.
Neighbors tried to recreate exactly when the fire began and speculated it broke out just before noon. By 6 p.m. the fire was out but the upper story was gutted, the roof was reduced to black timbers, and firefighters and state police officers were shoveling charred debris off the burnt-out second floor porch. By 6:30 the firefighters were coiling up their hoses and the state fire inspector was on-site.
Debbie Bedard, manager of Bedard’s Cash Market across Baxter St., recalled when her parents moved into the neighborhood in 1958. At that time, she said, it was believed that the house was already 75 years old, one in a row of identical two-family houses built to house factory workers at Lynda Lee Fashions down the street or elsewhere.
The property is owned by Daniel Gagne of North Hero, an island in Lake Champlain.