POWNAL, Vt. — Multiple fire departments were battling a massive blaze at the former Green Mountain Race Track into the early hours of Thursday morning.
The fire apparently started sometime late Wednesday night and billowing smoke could be seen pouring from the back of the building. By about 1:20 a.m., heavy fire began to appear in the front of the building.
The 64,000-square-foot glass and metal grandstand and some smaller outbuildings are set back from Route 7 and access to the site was limited to emergency vehicles.
There was a long line of emergency vehicles at the southern entrance to the property and tankers roared up and down Route 7 as they refilled from a hydrant the Pownal Fire Department on Route 346.
Green Mountain was opened as a thoroughbred track in 1963 by the Rooney family that owned the Pittsburgh Steelers, and added harness racing until switching to greyhounds in the 1970s. There have been several attempts to rejuvenate the 144-acre complex from restoring harness racing to a biomass facility to a concert venue but none got past the concept stage.
As late as March of this year there were plans for a music festival although the Select Board was less than enthusiastic about the idea. Those plans never had a chance to come to fruition as the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down any large gatherings. Berkshirestock 2 was rescheduled to next July.
The property is currently owned by Green Mountain Race Track LLC, which nearly lost it to foreclosure last year. There is also a commercial solar array on the property.
The building hasn't been used in years and concert promoter Michael Sayer's Facebook page has several postings from June and July about the building being boarded up over safety concerns "until it is demolished."
"I got approval from Pownal building inspector to demo the building. It's coming down," Sayers wrote in June.
A YouTube video from last year made by filmmakers who explore abandoned buildings shows shattered windows, piles of debris and the 4,500 wooden bleacher seats.
The four-story grandstand had been a landmark along Route 7 since its opening but time has taken its toll.
The size of the structure and especially access to water appeared to be hampering firefighters' efforts, according to scanner reports. Tankers were being called in from Bennington County, Berkshire County in Massachusetts and Rensselaer County in New York. Stamford Fire Department was called to cover the Pownal station.
An incomplete list of responding fire departments — gathered from scanner calls — included Powal, Pownal Valley, Bennington Rural, Hoosick Falls, N.Y., Shaftsbury, Arlington, Stamford, and Williamstown, Mass.