Canal St. fire being probed as arson

Canal St. fire being probed as arson


WESTERLY — A fire that Westerly Fire Chief John Mackay said is considered an arson destroyed a vacant house owned by the town and spread to the adjacent commercial property known as Trash and Treasures on Canal Street in the early morning hours Sunday. Trash and Treasures, at 24 Canal St., is listed as being owned by Roger Hall. No one was injured in the fire said the chief.

The fire, which started in the vacant house next door at 26 Canal St., spread quickly to the commercial building Mackay said, and resulted in power outages for some in the area as overhead utility lines were damaged. Electric lines to the abandoned three-story structure had been previously disconnected.

The fire began at about 3 a.m. and quickly became a large blaze with firefighters from Westerly, Pawcatuck, Dunn’s Corners, Ashaway, Watch Hill and Stonington Borough on the scene until about 8 a.m. as well as Westerly and Charlestown ambulance corps. There were no injuries reported, Mackay said.

A state fire marshal was on the scene by about 7:30 a.m. Sunday and remained for several hours. Some Westerly firefighters remained at the site for several hours after the fire was out to complete cleanup and other operations.

The intensity of the blaze damaged other buildings nearby.

Mackay said the house would likely be demolished, an effort already in the planning stages for the property as part of the town’s effort to revitalize that section of Canal Street.

The owner of 26 Canal St., sold the property to the town after the property sustained heavy damage when the Pawcatuck River overflowed its banks in the 2010 flood. Town officials had on a number of occasions been called to the property to board it up after trespassers were found to be on the property, according to previous comments from Amy Grzybowski, the town’s director of planning, code enforcement and grant administration.

The town was approved in 2011 for a $1.3 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for acquisition and demolition of 26 Canal and seven other properties as part of the agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The program was developed to aid municipalities and states to reduce spending on properties prone to storm-related damage. The property at 26 Canal was appraised at $125,000 in August.

The Trash and Treasures property required an in-depth environmental study, according to officials, to determine the condition of soil in the area.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management hired a consultant to perform that study.

Sunday’s blaze follows a devastating fire in June just up the block on High Street on June 23. That fire resulted in displacement of tenants who lived in some of the 17 apartments above local storefronts. Most of the businesses have reopened or begun that process.

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