ANDOVER — Investigators are still looking for clues to the cause of Monday night’s 2-alarm Wood Estate fire.
The blaze proved to be a challenging one to knock down, with crews still putting out hot spots yesterday morning.
The fire destroyed a 147-year-old wagon shop originally built by William Poor in 1867. It later became the Arden Casino, a venue maintained by mills tycoon William Wood to entertain his Shawsheen Village employees.
While responding to Monday night’s fire was itself a challenge, sifting through the rubble to find a cause will likely become the greatest challenge yet, according to fire officials.
The investigation into what caused the fire at the Arden Casino is being handled by several agencies, including the Andover Police Department, State Police and the state’s Fire Marshall’s office, according to Andover Fire Chief Mike Mansfield.
Aiding them in the investigation is the state’s Department of Fire Services rehab unit, which has provided a mobile work site the size of a Winnebago for conducting interviews and allowing investigators to warm up after working the scene in frigid temperatures, Mansfield said.
While services are available to aid in the investigation, they pale in comparison to what lies ahead for investigators, according to Mansfield.
Part of the problem involves the fact that the investigation started after more than 12 hours of fighting the fire and extinguishing hot spots with water that was being poured in single-digit temperatures at times.
While water and ice decorating the scene will be one challenge, another key hurdle is that the building collapsed early on in the department’s response, Mansfield said.
The collapse helped conceal and protect hot spots, extending the length of and adding obstacles to the department’s response, according to Mansfield.
Now, the challenge is picking up the pieces.
“You have to take layers of the building off of others. You’re de-layering the floors of the building as you’re looking for clues as to the cause and origin,” he said.
Also complicating matters is how long it took responders to get pumping water to the scene given the landscape and size of the site, according to Mansfield.
Just short of a half mile of hose had to be run before real work to battle the blaze began, according to Mansfield.
“We laid out almost 2,000 feet of large-diameter hose to get to that building,” Mansfield said. “It was pretty intense.”
With the water being forced through more than three football fields length of hose along North Main Street and up a hill, a pumper truck was placed at around the 900-foot mark to boost pressure in the remaining 1,100 feet of line to Arden Casino, Mansfield said.
With officials short on answers, one could speculate as to the cause of the fire.
While standing at the scene of the blaze, Mansfield said, “when you have no utilities, it increases your suspicions. We’ve called the state Fire Marshall. They will do an investigation. Until then, it’s just speculation.”
That speculation was also on the mind of Thomas Childs, owner of Childs Design and Construction, who has worked with many buildings on the Wood Estate in recent years.
“Certainly, there was no lightning in the sky. It wasn’t like it was an act of God,” Childs said. “I do know the property was padlocked and secured, and hadn’t been in use for years and years and years.”
Childs had the opportunity to enter the building years ago. What he saw inside left an impression.
“I had only been in the building once,” he said. “The stage was still intact. The curtains were still there, and I think there was some play-bills still on the floor. They just closed it up after a performance and never used it again.”
“It was a throwback to time,” Childs said.
While he has worked on several buildings on the estate and has one project running now, Arden Casino was never on his radar.
“The building had been in definite disrepair. Part of the roof was caving in, and it was structurally unstable,” he said. “It probably would have needed razing. I had some discussions with (Rosalyn Wood) about it, but no course of action was ever decided upon.”