History Going Up in Flames, Crews Battle Fire at University of Vermont


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History going up in flames.

Torrey Hall at the University of Vermont caught fire Thursday morning.

“First thing you do is move,” Tim Carrier said. “The smoke was rolling out the top of it. The smoke was already on all four corners of the roof.”

Carrier was working in the building next door with five of his men from Precision Balancing, installing air conditioning units. Carrier filmed from the top of the roof, watching the smoke.

“That’s all you think about, is hope everybody gets out,” he added.

Everyone got out safe.

Construction workers were in Torrey Hall doing renovations.

“From initial investigation that this fire was caused by workers soldering copper, this building was under rehab,” Fire Chief Steven Locke, from the Burlington Fire Department, said.

Firefighters responded within minutes, battling the fire for nearly four hours. The fire chief says the building does not have sprinklers. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, built in 1863.

“It outside walls on the third floor, where we would typically breach through the wall, have steel safes that are leaned up against the walls, storing some very valuable stuff,” Fire Chief Locke said.

The hall houses priceless collections, more than 300,000 samples of plants and animals.

“Ethan Allen’s widow’s collection is in the building. That’s an 1814 collection. Put a price on it,” Dr. David Barrington, the director of the Pringle Herbarium at the University of Vermont, said.

Many professors spending their life’s work researching these precious items.

“My gut started churning, thinking of the worst,” Charles William “Bill” Kilpatrick, a professor and the curator of UVM’s Zadock Thompson Natural History Collection, said. 

Kilpatrick retired from teaching this year, just days after an historic black rhino horn was stolen from that same building.

Now, Kilpatrick worries about the condition of the rest of the collections.

“Some things can be salvaged,” he said. “This occurred during a major renovation.”

A release from university officials says most of the Pringle Herbarium is largely intact, some items that weren’t yet added to the collection were damaged. At this time, university officials say it appears no damage was done to the Zadock Thompson animal collection.

Two firefighters received minor injuries during the incident.

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