Four-alarm fire destroys 19th-century barn in Fairhaven; state fire marshal investigating

The blaze destroyed a 19th-century barn. Investigators are probing the cause.
The blaze destroyed a 19th-century barn. Investigators are probing the cause.
Fairhaven Fire Department

FAIRHAVEN — State fire investigators are probing a four-alarm fire that destroyed a 19th-century barn at a landscaping company today, but have not yet determined what caused the blaze or whether it is part of an arson spree haunting the region south of Boston.

The fire was discovered around 7:30 a.m. in the barn at the company on Route 6 run by G. Bourne Knowles.

Knowles said he saw just a small amount of smoke that smelled like an electrical motor had burned out. Knowles said he purged the smoke, and then turned his attention to dispatching his crews for the day.

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“I was in the process of getting the crews out when, all of a sudden, I looked up and saw flames coming through the roof of the old barn that we have here,’’ said Knowles, who added that the barn was built in the late 1800s. “And the rest is history.’’

Fairhaven Fire Chief Timothy Francis said at the scene that the cause of the fire remains under investigation by his department, Fairhaven police, and the state fire marshal’s office. In a statement this afternoon, Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan’s office said the investigation continues into the cause and origin of the fire, and that no conclusions have been reached.

Coan is leading the growing search for those responsible for setting a string of fires in abandoned or unoccupied commercial and residential buildings in communities south of Boston since this September. More than 12 structures may have been set afire by the arsonist or arsonists. The most recent fire linked to the spree was set Tuesday in an unused outbuilding at the Raynham Park track.

Also today, the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, the statewide union for firefighters, announced it was offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever was responsible.

“It’s one thing if we get killed fighting a fire. We knew that when we signed on for the job’’ it could happen, said Edward A. Kelly, president of the PFFM and former leader of the Boston firefighters union. “But when someone intentionally lights one, that sacrifice is so needless that it makes it that much more painful and disturbing.’’

Kelly said the fires, although in abandoned or unoccupied buildings, still pose a threat to the lives of firefighters who have to suppress the blaze and make sure that it does not spread to nearby occupied properties.

“We are just, in our eyes, trying to head off a tragedy,’’ Kelly said.

Kelly noted that two firefighters were killed last December, one in Worcester and one in Peabody, and that six firefighters were killed in Worcester in 1999. “There are plenty of sad moments in December,’’ Kelly said.