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Investigators Asking For Help In Determining Cause of J.B. Paper Fire

Staff Reports
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Investigators are asking for the public's help in determining how the J.B. Paper factory fire started Monday night.
 
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey,Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski and Police Chief Michael Wynn are asking anyone with information about it to contact the detective bureau at 413-448-9705 or the arson hotline at 1-800-682-9229. 
 
"The investigative team is asking anyone with information about the fire to come forward confidentially. The cause of the fire remains undetermined and we are looking for information on how the fire started whether it was accidental or intentional," Ostroskey wrote. 
 
Investigators were on scene Wednesday trying to determine what happened. The electricity and gas had been shut off for years to the abandoned building, leading fire officials to say the fire was likely caused by somebody inside the building - either by accident or intentionally. The recorded owner of the building died in 2009.
 
"We can rule out electrical. The electrical that serves this building has been shut off for years. Nobody has any right to be here other than the property owner and they were nowhere near this place. It is either accidental by a squatter or trespasser making a fire inside, doing who knows what. Or it is a malicious intent to start a fire with an open flame. It is either accidental arson or arson," Deputy Chief Daniel Garner said on Tuesday morning.
 
Securing the site has posed a challenge over the years, Garner said, and on multiple occasions police and fire had been at the site looking to ensure it was closed off. But, squatters and trespassers were still known to find their way into the building.
 
The fire was the largest one the city has seen in decades. It required help from at least eight surrounding towns and firefighters worked all night to control it. It isn't clear exactly what time it began because it had been burning for some time before the call was made. When firefighters arrived, it was already showing heavy fire and firefighters immediately went on the defensive. Garner said the fire must have been burning for some time to pick up intensity before the department received the call at about 8 p.m. 
 
The arson hotline is part of the arson watch reward program that provides rewards of up to $5,000 for information that helps to solve fire cases. 
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Great Barrington Help Another Hiker Off Monument Mountain

GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Chief Charles Burger reports that the Fire Department rescued a 60-year-old injured hiker from Monument Mountain on Monday afternoon.

On Aug. 29, at 2:41 p.m. firefighters, along with Southern Berkshire Ambulance, responded to Monument Mountain on a report of a hiker who had fallen on the Squaw Peak trail a short distance from the top. The man had injured his ankle and was unable to walk.

Sheffield and Egremont fire departments were immediately called in for assistance to provide their ATVs and manpower, along with the Western Mass Technical Rescue Team.

The first responding crew found the man, who was hiking the trail with a friend, stable but unable to put weight on his ankle. Because he was at a very steep location on the trail, Great Barrington firefighters rigged a rope system to safely lower him almost 150 feet down the mountain with assistance from the Western Mass Tech Rescue Team. Crews then carried the man a quarter mile to the farthest point ATVs could reach and he was safely secured on the vehicle and transferred off the mountain. The hiker declined medical attention and was transported home by his friend.

In total, about 30 rescue personnel responded to the incident, which took approximately 2 1/2 hours. All crews cleared the scene by 5:30 p.m.

This is Great Barrington’s third rescue involving an injured hiker on Monument Mountain this month. The Great Barrington Fire Department also assisted the Monterey Fire Department on Friday with an injured hiker on the Appalachian Trail in Beartown State Forest.

Monterey and Stockbridge Fire Departments covered additional incidents in Great Barrington during the call, including a vehicle crash where a car caught fire in front of Monument Mountain Reservation that was unrelated to the rescue.

"I would like to thank Great Barrington's firefighters for their hard work, along with the other agencies who have routinely assisted us. It is a strenuous, time consuming job and yesterday's incident demonstrated team work at its best," Burger said. "Thankfully, the man suffered only a minor injury."

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Pittsfield Warehouse Goes Up in Flames

By Andy McKeever & Tammy Daniels
iBerkshires Staff

Firefighters quickly went on the defensive trying to contain the fire. 
Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 at 11:53 a.m. 
 
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The large fire at the former J.B. Paper warehouse on Monday night may have been caused by squatters or intentionally lit. 
 
Deputy Chief Daniel Garner said on Tuesday that there was no electrical running to the building and gas had been shut off. He said the cause was likely accidental arson or arson.
 
"We can rule out electrical. The electrical that serves this building has been shut off for years. Nobody has any right to be here other than the property owner and they were nowhere near this place. It is either accidental by a squatter or trespasser making a fire inside, doing who knows what. Or it is a malicious intent to start a fire with an open flame. It is either accidental arson or arson," Garner said.
 
Garner said securing the abandoned factory on Elmvale Place has been a challenge over the years. On multiple occasions Police and Fire have attempted to keep up with ensuring the building was secure but only so much could be done to prevent trespassing. 
 
"Buildings are at their most dangerous for fire personnel and the general public when they are being constructed, being demolished, or when they are abandoned. This is not a vacant building because a vacant building is still being maintained to some capacity. This is a condemned, abandoned building, a neglected building. There are various hazards within the building itself. There are unstable walls. It's been noted before that there is unstable flooring inside. It is a derelict property," Garner said. 
 
"Another potential problem is the security of this building. We make a couple trips to this site, monthly, years, but it so hard to keep up with security. Between us, the Fire Department and Police, we try to make sure it is buttoned up and secure but squatters get in here, trespassers who are using it for whatever illicit means."
 
It isn't known if somebody was in the building or not, Garner said, because firefighters have only recently been able to access the structure. As of 10 a.m., some 14 hours after the department received the call, the fire was still smoldering and engine companies continued to douse the building with water. 
 
While the call may have came in at 8 p.m., Garner says the blaze was going well before then. 
 
"It is so far set off of a main thoroughfare, Wahconah Street, and even though you have the Dower Square projects over here, it can burn unchecked for sometime. Especially at 8 o'clock. The sun is down, it is dark, nobody will see smoke for quite some time. The fire had time to grow and intensify. Timeline-wise, it could have started somewhere after 7 o'clock. It could have been a cigarette, it is so much speculation, but it could have been a cigarette smoldering since 5 o'clock last evening and something kicks off," Garner said.
 
"It was heavy fire when we got here so that means it had been burning for quite some time, unless we find multiple points of origin or an accelerant. There are some many plausible scenarios."
 
The flames were heavy when firefighters arrived. Deputy Chief Matthew Noyes, the incident commander, said there was no attempt to fight the fire internally and quickly switched to a defensive attack — going after it from the perimeter instead of conducting searches or interior attacks.
 
"We realized immediately that it had spread rapidly prior to our arrival," he said, adding, "The fire was ahead of us right from the get-go ... Within 10 minutes it had broken through the roof in one spot."
 
Firefighters quickly faced trouble accessing water and the fire grew to a three-alarm. By 9:30 the roofs began to collapse.
 
"Even though we have pre-planned this building for a number of years now and even though we have a branch of the Housatonic here, drafting was not an option due to access to the river and it is so low this year. We had limited hydrant capability. The city Water Department was able to free up a larger volume of water by increasing the volume and the pressure in the Wahconah Street area. At one point we had a shuttle operation with Lanesborough and I believe Cheshire tanker shuttles to get more water to the scene," Garner said.
 
At least eight fire companies helped in combating what Garner said was the biggest fire he's seen in 19 years on the department. Pittsfield, Dalton, Lenox, Richmond, Cheshire, Lanesborough and Hinsdale all arrived on scene - mostly tankers used to shuttle in water — while Adams, Lee and Lanesborough covered the Pittsfield station.
 
"Overall operating on this fireground was our full contingent of on-duty personnel, 18 members. Our backup ladder truck has been out of service for quite some time so we had Dalton's ladder 1 respond right to the scene so we had two ladder trucks operating. We back-filled with a majority of our off-duty firefighters. Apparatus and resourcewise, we needed extra fire engines and another ladder truck to protect the city while we we fighting this fire," Garner said.
 
"We had Adams' Ladder 1 at our headquarters; we had an engine company from Lanesborough; we had an engine company from Lee; we had an engine company from Dalton."
 
With the tankers and extra volume from the hydrants, the department had enough to combat it over night. Two ladder-truck towers — one set up by Pittsfield and the other by Dalton — were attempting to "surround and drown" the flames from above on one side and hoses are also being sprayed on the other side to contain the conflagration. Lines were laid all the way down Elmvale Place from Wahconah Street as well as from a hydrant at Pine Cone Hill, where a gate was opened to allow access to that end of Elmvale.
 
"Everyone on the scene is handling things professionally," Noyes said around 10 p.m. on Monday. "We're getting a lot of out-of-town help  ... They're doing a great job."
 
The flames were so high, they turned the sky orange and lit up the neighborhood. Crowds gathered in the Pine Cone Hill parking lot and on Wahconah street. The glow could be seen for miles. Wahconah Street was closed to through-traffic from Elmvale to Peck's Road. 
 
There are at least six mills or warehouse buildings along Elmvale Place, a small road off Wahconah street and next to Pittsfield Cemetery. The paper company is the last building on the street.
 
"It's a building that's been vacant for years," Noyes said. "We've known this has been coming for years. ... We've been out here a bunch of times to pre-plan it."
 

On Tuesday morning firefighters were still on scene dousing the building with water as the timber construction continued to smolder. 
Garner said every department pre-plans for the worse at what he calls "target hazards." The department had visited the site numerous times to look at access and utilities to have plans in place to respond. 
 
According to documents on file at the Registry of Deeds, the building is held by BM Realty Co., operating as J.B. Paper Co., which lists the late Gerald Binder as principal. Binder had run the paper company, his family business, for more than 50 years. He died in 2009.
 
The building was constructed in 1916. Garner said early reports say the building is not insured. 
 
By midnight, Garner said the fire was under control — though still burning — and the attack was downgraded. The sprawling two-story building is divided into three sections. Garner said firefighters struggled with access to the farther building from the road but that fire is smoldering out on its own.
 
Garner said he doesn't believe there were any hazardous material in the building — which he described as a "ordinary to heavy timber construction" — except what would have soaked into the floorboards.
 
"There were three large portions of the building. Each section had stairs and ramps but there was no sublevel, there is no basement," Garner said.
 
There were no reported injuries. County Ambulance was on scene.
 
The state fire marshal, the Fire Department's investigators, and the Pittsfield Police Department now have access to the building and will begin investigation today. Garner expects firefighters to remain on scene through Tuesday and demolition of some parts of the building will begin. Berkshire Gas was on scene Tuesday morning to shut off the gas line at the road — gas had been shut off to the building but Garner says it needs to be turned off at the street level to allow for demolition. 
 

Update 11:10p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The J.B. Paper Co. on Elmvale Place went up in flames on Monday night.

Deputy Fire Chief Matthew Noyes said there was fire and smoke coming out of the back of the building when firefighters arrived.

"We realized immediately that it had spread rapidly prior to our arrival," he said, adding, "The fire was ahead of us right from the get-go ... within 10 minutes it had broken through the roof in one spot."

He said there was no attempt to enter the building because it was unsafe and that sections began to collapse not longer after arriving.

"It's a building that's been vacant for years," Noyes said. "We've known this has been coming for years. ... We've been out here a bunch of times to pre-plan it."

The call for a second alarm brought in all off-duty firefighters; it went to a third alarm when mutual aid was requested.

Two ladder-truck towers — one set up by Pittsfield and the other by Dalton — were attempting to "surround and drown" the flames from above on one side and hoses are also being sprayed on the other side to contain the conflagration.

There are now at least seven fire companies on scene: Pittsfield, Dalton, Lenox, Richmond, Cheshire, Lanesborough and Hinsdale. Adams is covering the Pittsfield station.

The former paper company was vacant but still had some items inside. Noyes said there was some popping heard but nothing in there was believed to be out of the ordinary for an old mill.

He confirmed that there were initial water supply problems because of the nearby mains, leading to a reliance on tankers early on. Tankers from various Berkshire County fire departments were shuttling in water to fill a portable tank for use in fighting the fire. 

Lines were laid all the way down Elmvale Place from Wahconah Street as well as from a hydrant at Pine Cone Hill, where a gate was opened to allow access to that end of Elmvale.

Workers from the city's Water Department came in to switch valves to ensure that water was flowing where it was needed.

"We now have adequate water to do what we're doing," Noyes said.

The cause of the fire won't be known for some time, if ever. State fire investigators were expected to arrive on Tuesday.


Tankers from various Berkshire County fire departments shuttled water to the scene to help combat the blaze.

For now, firefighters are continuing their defensive posture and keeping a collapse perimeter as a safety precaution since sections of the 1916 mill have already dropped.

"Everyone on the scene is handling things professionally," Noyes said. "We're getting a lot of out-of-town help  ... they're doing a great job."

There were no reported injuries but firefighters were going to be working through the night. County Ambulance was on scene.

"I expect we'll be here at least all night if not into the day tomorrow," Noyes said.

The initial two-alarm fire was reported at about 8 p.m. at the century-old building. By 9:30, the roof on the building was caving in.

There are at least six mills or warehouse buildings along Elmvale Place, a small road off Wahconah street and next to Pittsfield Cemetery. The paper company is the last building on the street.

The flames were so high, they turned the sky orange and lit up the neighborhood. Crowds gathered in the Pine Cone Hill parking lot and on Wahconah street. The glow could be seen for miles. 

Wahconah Street is closed to through traffic from Elmvale to Peck's Road. There are a lot of firetrucks in the area so avoid it possible. Heavy smoke is also filling the neighborhood.

According to documents on file at the Registry of Deeds, building is held by BM Realty Co., operating as J.B. Paper Co., which lists the late Gerald Binder as principal. Binder had run the paper company, his family business, for more than 50 years. He died in 2009.

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Adams Woman Killed in One-Car Crash on Route 112

ASHFIELD, Mass. — A 67-year-old Adams woman was killed in a single-car crash on Monday afternoon on Route 112 in Ashfield.

State police, who are investigating the incident, said the victim's identity would not be immediately released on Monday night.

Late Tuesday the woman was identified as Theresa Mille.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that the Toyota Corolla she was driving flipped over the guardrail on the northbound lane. The accident occurred between Sears Road and the Three Sisters Sanctuary.

The crash occurred at about 3:15 p.m. and caused the northbound lane to be closed for about an hour during the on-scene investigation.

Troopers assigned to the Shelburne Falls Barracks and the state police Collision Analysis Reconstruction Section, State Police Detective Unit and Crime Scene Services Section, along with Ashfield Fire Department, responded to calls of the car crash.

The woman died as a result of her injuries. Her male passenger was transported to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield for unknown injuries. His name also was not being released.

State Police said no further information was available at this time.

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Superior Court Briefs: Aug. 22 - Aug. 25

Staff Reports
Cases heard before Judge Daniel Ford on Monday, August 22.
 
Amanda Swift, 22, of Plymouth had not guilty pleas entered on her behalf on single counts of attempted arson of a dwelling house, and burning personal property.
 
She was released on personal recognizance. Swift is accused of attempting to set fire to Barton's Crossing in Pittsfield on April 18, 2016.
 
Cases heard before Judge Daniel Ford on Thursday, August 25.
 
Naquan Miller, 37, of Pittsfield had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf on a single count of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
 
He was released on $7,500 bail. The charge stems from the execution of a search warrant at his home on July 15, 2016.
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