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Castleberry Fairs

Conference Center blaze sets town back $8,000

More than $2 million in tax revenue lost

March 04, 2009
ALTON — With summer residents of the Alton Bay Christian Conference Center still recovering in the aftermath of a 14-alarm fire that swept through the 146-year-old resort community on Easter Sunday, local officials are just beginning to get a handle on the financial cost of the blaze.

The fire (the cause of which is still under investigation by the state Fire Marshal's office) was first reported at around 4:42 p.m. on April 12. Fire personnel from Alton who responded to what they initially thought was a smoke investigation arrived at the scene to find several unoccupied summer cottages and brush fires burning, and immediately called for assistance.

Fanned by 30- to 35-mph winds off Lake Winnipesaukee, the fire quickly engulfed the area surrounding Beacon Avenue and Glen Avenue, sweeping from house to house and igniting propane tanks as it grew into a 14-alarm inferno, with nearly 40 local fire departments called in to help battle the intense flames, forcing the police and highway departments to close Route 11 until it was brought under control at around 10:30 p.m.

"The Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid provided outstanding support and resources as needed, considering the size of this incident," a statement released by the board of selectmen on April 16 reads, adding that, "this is the largest emergency incident ever dispatched through the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid system."

Reporting that 48 summer homes were completely destroyed, and many others heavily damaged, the statement adds that the assessed value of the properties involved was "well over $2.5 million."

Town Administrator Russell Bailey explained during a brief interview Monday that the town's fire, police and highway departments incurred roughly $8,000 in overtime alone during the fire ($2,500 for police officers, $1,099.36 for highway personnel, and $4,021.94 for firefighters), with fuel costs (for seven police cruisers, along with the other vehicles at the scene) not included in that estimate.

Bailey's preliminary cost estimates also included miscellaneous buildings and grounds work.

With no word yet from the governor's office on whether the town is eligible to collect reimbursement funds from FEMA, Bailey said, the selectmen are planning to absorb the cost of the fire within the 2009 operating budget (which was set at a default status of $6,043,629 in March) in the hope that Alton can ride out the remainder of the year with no further incidents on the scale of the Easter blaze.

"The Fire Chief personally thanks his department members for their outstanding efforts at the fire; the Alton Board of Selectmen wish to thank the town personnel that responded, as well as the mutual aid companies for their support and assistance with this multi-alarm blaze," the selectmen's statement reads.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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