PRINCETON, Mass. - A lightning strike has been confirmed as the cause of a fire Tuesday that destroyed a former inn at 30 Mountain Road.
The 23-room mansion built in 1898 near the center of Princeton was hit by lightning during a storm that blew in before dawn Tuesday, according to a news release Thursday from the office of state Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. About 3 a.m. Tuesday, lightning hit a large tree next to the single-family home, traveled down a metal chain, to a metal trellis, to another metal chain, to a wooden courtyard structure, and then ignited the side of the house, the fire marshal’s office said.
The fire traveled unchecked through the wall to the roof, the release said. The building did not have sprinklers. Firefighters from several communities battled the blaze and were hampered by a lack of a nearby water source.
In the news release, the fire marshal said: “Report any potential lightning strike to the fire department right away. Even if you see no evidence of a fire, one could be smoldering inside the walls or attic for a long time. This is the perfect use of thermal imaging technology to detect smoldering fires before they cause a lot of damage.”
No one was injured in the fire, which caused extensive damage to the building, formerly the Princeton Inn. A decision on whether the building will be torn down is pending an evaluation by the owners’ insurance company, according to the Princeton Building Department.
Lightning may have sparked fire in former Princeton inn
Updated May 3, 2017 at 12:03 AM
By Kim Ring
Telegram & Gazette Staff
PRINCETON, Mass. - A lightning strike early Tuesday morning is believed to have sparked a fire that destroyed most of an 1898 home that was once a swanky restaurant where celebrities dined.
Princeton Fire Chief John Bennett said firefighters were hampered early on by water problems and because the blaze likely burned unnoticed for two hours inside voids in the walls because of the balloon-style construction.
Balloon framing is a style of house building that uses long, vertical two-by-fours for the exterior walls. The long studs extend uninterrupted, from the sill on top of the foundation all the way to the roof. A fire inside a balloon-frame building has the potential to spread horizontally and vertically.
Initially the Fire Department had staffing problems, as well, when the alarm sounded around 5 a.m.
“This time of the morning you have very limited personnel,” the chief said. “I only had two guys who went in and tried to attack it ... but it was already rolling through the walls.”
Because of water problems and the lack of hydrants, crews shuttled water from various fire ponds in town. The Fire District 7 Tender Task Force was activated to bring in tanker trucks and engines from towns selected ahead of time to respond in case of just such an emergency, Spencer Fire Chief Robert P. Parsons said.
The plan for response is formulated so that no areas are left without adequate fire protection, should another call come in, he said, adding that the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency activates the task forces.
Trucks came from as far away as Warren and Auburn, bringing supplies and personnel to allow firefighters to have a break. In the end, many had been at the scene for more than 12 hours.
The three-alarm blaze at the former Inn at Princeton drew about 150 firefighters from at least 20 Central Massachusetts communities, the chief said.
The occupants of the home got out safely. One firefighter, from Rutland, suffered a hand injury, the chief said.
Chief Bennett said the homeowner told investigators that she heard a loud noise about 3 a.m. during a thunderstorm. The family dogs were startled and she got out of bed and went downstairs to calm them, the chief said. She then fell asleep on a couch. A few hours later, she was awakened by fire alarms and the dogs, and realized the house was on fire, the chief said.
“She got her husband, her daughter and the dogs out,” he said.
A storm came through the area around that time, and the fire chief said he suspected a lightning strike started the fire. The state fire marshal’s office is investigating.
The fire created a lot of smoke which, combined with the heavy fog in the morning, cast an eerie pall over the town.
Mountain Road was closed to traffic all day and reopened just before 6 p.m.
The building is a now a private residence; it was billed as “a 23-room Queen Anne, late Victorian, gambrel roof country mansion” in a brochure for The Country Inn at Princeton from the 1970s.
The backyard boasts a stunning view, and the barn, according to a social media site for The Living Room, is used for Sunday worship services. Neighbors said on a clear day, one can see the Boston skyline from the backyard, where a large cross stands and sunrise services are held on Easter morning.
The house has been home to three different restaurants, the Meeting House, the Inn at Princeton and Country Inn at Princeton.
Linda Albrecht, who works in Town Hall, was once employed as a dishwasher at the restaurant when it was run by Susanne Reed and Elizabeth Sjogren as the Country Inn.
“One night Paul Newman and his wife came in and I kept their (receipt) in my wallet for years,” she said. “He had scampi and something else. I think I just threw it away last year; it was all frayed.”
The home was built by Charles F. Washburn of Worcester, who apparently used it as a summer residence. Local records noted that Theodore Roosevelt visited the home and was friendly with the Washburns. It is now owned by Daniel and Cheryl Ervin, who purchased it in 2007, according to assessor’s records.