BERLIN — A fire destroyed a four-and-half-story barn and historical home at the Towne-Ayr farm on Three Mile Bridge Road late Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, it’s an old house, and old barns go up very fast,” Berlin Fire Chief Miles Silk Jr. said. “(The barn) was almost on the ground when East Montpelier [Fire Dept.] got here, and they’re closer than we are.”
Passerbys on Interstate 89 could see the fire, which eventually leveled the barn and home, both built in the 1800s. Dispatchers first heard the call around 8:43 p.m., and fire crews worked overnight. The firefighting response was called off around 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
The home belonged to Brad Towne and his wife, Rita. Brad Towne’s mother, long-time state Rep. Ruth Towne had also lived in the home.
Rita Towne was the sole family member home at the time of the fire, and escaped after a passing motorist alerted her.
Flames quickly spread from the barn to the home.
Rita Towne said many neighbors helped her corral 12 horses and a pony that had been in a second barn that was unaffected. While the home burned, the animals were secured in a fenced area away from the fire.
The initial fire dispatches suggested the burning barn held animals, but Rita Towne later said that was not the case.
At 10:21 p.m., a winter portion of the 20-plus room home was still standing but fully engulfed on both floors. All that remained of the hay barn was a few portions of the side walls near the base of the structure.
Rita Towne said the barn and home were insured.
Tanker trucks were called to the scene from several communities, and crews pulled water from the river.
Berlin firefighters had assistance from some 10 other area fire departments.
A State Police detective and a fire investigator with the state also evaluated the scene, and officials determined the fire was caused by a piece of farm equipment parked in the barn. The fire was not considered suspicious.
The value of the loss is estimated at at least $200,000.
Ruth Towne, who passed away in 2007, served in the General Assembly for 26 years, and for several years she chaired the House Agriculture Committee.