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Updated: Fire damages Plainfield home-building business

“We think it is possible that ashes from the wood stove fell on the roof and started the fire,” Assistant Fire Chief David Alvord said.

The fire destroyed the entire second floor of the building, which served as the business office, and damaged the first floor.

Richard Potter, 69, has owned Potter Homebuilders, specializing in timber-frame construction and historic restoration, since 1978. The timber-frame workshop was one of his first building projects.

Potter had been working in the shop in the morning and had gone home for lunch around 12:30 p.m. Potter and his wife, Mary, live a few yards away from the shop.

“I was sitting in the living room reading the paper when I heard this loud honking. My neighbor was parked in my driveway and I could tell by the expression on his face that something was really wrong,” Potter said.

That’s when he noticed smoke coming from the corner of the roof of the workshop.

“It looked like a fairly minor fire at that point,” said Potter, who is a former Plainfield firefighter.

Because hilltowns depend on all-volunteer fire departments, it took some time before firefighters could respond to the afternoon blaze.

“That is a pretty tough time of the day because everybody is at work,” Alvord said. Alvord himself had to travel 45 minutes from his job at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton to get to the fire.

According to Alvord, employees of the Plainfield Highway Department are trained in driving the town’s fire trucks and they were able to get the vehicles to the scene.

Alvord said Fire Capt. Mert Taylor, who also works for the Highway Department, took command of the scene until Alvord arrived.

Eight firefighters from Plainfield responded to the call along with roughly 20 others from fire departments in Ashfield, Cummington, Goshen, Savoy and Worthington and with Highland Ambulance.

“Mutual aid was critical to stopping this fire,” Alvord said. “The place would have been leveled if it wasn’t for mutual aid.”

Alvord said it took about an hour and a half to put the fire out and another two hours to look for hot spots.

“It was a tough fire to fight with the wind constantly blowing from the west,” he said.

Potter’s wife Mary said she had been afraid that high winds would have spread the fire to their home, but the house was not damaged by the blaze.

An avid collector of antique tools, Potter ran into the building to try to save important items, including tools that were over 200 years old.

“We were able to save a lot of things, but I won’t know until tomorrow what made it through the fire,” he said.

According to Potter, he had no insurance on the building.

“It was way too expensive to insure a timber-frame woodworking shop with a wood stove back in the late ’70s and even more expensive as time went on. I always tried to be very careful, but I knew I was taking a risk,” he said.

Potter said he hopes to be able to salvage the first floor of the building and rebuild the second floor.

“I have a heck of a cleanup job in front of me,” Potter said. “I plan on protecting it for the winter and rebuilding in the spring.”

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