Faced with the loss of his family’s winery, Nathan Benjamin Jr. said he plans to talk to town officials about firefighters’ response to the fire that leveled the building Sunday night at Charlton Farm Orchards & Winery, reports telegram.com.
Benjamin Jr. said he had a verbal confrontation with firefighters and a police officer during the height of the Sunday night fire when he suggested routes into the farm that would give fire vehicles better access to the burning building. Some fire vehicles could not get around the vehicles that had arrived first, and that prevented firefighters from putting water on the fire. He said the delay to get water on the fire was more than 40 minutes.
Benjamin said as he attempted to let Assistant Fire Chief Curt J. Meskus know that firefighters could drive through his orchards to get to an irrigation pond, he was threatened with arrest by a Charlton police officer. His father, Nathan Benjamin Sr., intervened and persuaded the officer not to arrest him.
Benjamin also said Assistant Chief Meskus refused to drive his trucks off the road to get to the pond and trucks blocked the road. He said that later during the fire a truck from Webster was easily able to get to the fire by going around the road and up through the orchard.
Fire Chief Charles E. Cloutier Jr. said the police officer only took action against Benjamin after he grabbed ahold of the firefighter. He said the irrigation pond was not used because firefighters learned about it later during the fire and had already started shuttling water in tankers. He said the tanker shuttle was started because there were no hydrants in the area. The first trucks brought in a total of 3,500 gallons of water, which was quickly used up. Chief Cloutier said access for tankers was hindered by the small footprint of the site and the narrow road leading to the farm. The shuttle shut down the road even further.
“Once you’ve decided to go with a shuttle, it’s very difficult to switch gears,” he said. “We didn’t learn about the pond until later in the fire.”
At that point, Chief Cloutier said, they were committed to the shuttle effort. He said from the pictures he saw, he does not believe any of the building could have been saved regardless of how the water was brought in. He said there were no working fire alarms in the winery, and firefighters first heard about the fire from a motorist on Route 20 who saw a glow in the sky.
“The building, unfortunately, was going to be the same outcome at the end of the day,” he said.
Chief Cloutier said he believes the department did a good job fighting the fire. It took 40,000 gallons of water and 14 hours fighting the fire to put it out.
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