Fire Damages Downtown Brattleboro, Vermont Building

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) -- Town firefighters believe the fire that destroyed the top two floors of a four-story downtown building was caused by one of the residents who was smoking in bed.

Emergency officials said two women who had been living in the Wilder Building were injured, one seriously, in the blaze that started before 6 a.m. Saturday. A total of 10 people lived in the building.

One of the residents, Rose Billetdeaux, 21, was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital after the fire, according to Brattleboro Fire Chief David Emery.

She was in critical condition with major burns to her face and torso, Emery said.

It appears Billetdeaux caused the fire by smoking in bed, authorities said.

``All the evidence points towards that,'' Emery said. ``I think she was probably falling asleep.''

The other woman, Elizabeth Betts, was in the apartment with Billetdeaux. She was treated and released for smoke inhalation at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

A firefighter, Dan Hiner, dislocated his shoulder and sustained a muscle strain when he slipped on debris and fell down a staircase while fighting the fire.

``When we got there, there were flames coming out of four windows on the third floor,'' said Michael Bucossi, Brattleboro's assistant fire chief.

The fire, which collapsed the roof of the building and left little standing in the charred upper floors, was under control by 10 a.m. Fire crews did not declare the blaze extinguished until nearly midnight Sunday.

The apartments on the top two floors were destroyed and businesses on the lower two floors sustained extensive water damage. Among the businesses were a photo shop and a music store.

``The people and businesses here, they lost everything,'' Bucossi said. Most of the tenants were staying with relatives, and one couple is being assisted by the American Red Cross, he said.

On Sunday, Emery toured the building with insurance adjusters and an engineer, who determined the building appeared sound enough to salvage. For the next two weeks, he said, engineers would continue to monitor the building, but it appears as though only the top two floors would need to be demolished.

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