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June 29, 2018

Accidental Fire/St. Johnsbury Barracks

VSP Press Release-Incident


CASE#: 18A403311



INVESTIGATORS: Detective Sergeant Michael LaCourse-VSP, Detective Sergeant Todd
Ambroz-VSP, Assistant State Fire Marshal Josh Maxham - Division of Fire Safety

STATION: St. Johnsbury
CONTACT# 802-748-3111

DATE/TIME: 06/28/18 @ 1844 hrs
INCIDENT LOCATION: 94 Camp Farnsworth Rd, Thetford, VT
INCIDENT: Appliance Fire - Accidental

VICTIM: Girl Scouts of the Green & White Mountains
CITY, STATE OF RESIDENCE: One Commerce Drive, Bedford, NH


On 06/28/18, at approximately 1848 hours, the Thetford Volunteer Fire  Department responded to a report of a possible structure fire with heavy smoke at the dining hall at Camp Farnsworth, located at 94 Camp Farnsworth Rd in Thetford. Thetford Fire Department was assisted by mutual aid response from Bradford, VT Fire Department, Strafford, VT Fire Department, Lyme, NH Fire Department and Upper Valley Ambulance. 

Upon arrival the fire department encountered heavy smoke coming from the west side of the dining hall. Staff members had already evacuated the building and accounted for all campers and staff members. Fire personnel were able to determine that the source of the smoke was a fire within a commercial clothes dryer. The fire was quickly extinguished and no structural damage occurred to the building. 

One staff member was transported to the hospital for evaluation due to smoke inhalation and a pre-existing respiratory condition.  The staff member was evaluated and released.

After his initial assessment of the scene, and due to the possible smoke inhalation injury,  Thetford Fire Chief Chad Whitcomb
contacted the State of Vermont- Department of Public Safety Fire Investigation
Unit to assist with an Origin and Cause investigation. Detectives from the
Vermont State Police and Assistant Fire Marshalls from the Vermont Division of
Fire Safety responded to the scene in the early morning hours of 06/29/18 to
initiate an Origin/Cause investigation. 

The fire investigation unit was able to confirm that rags from the kitchen area had been laundered and then dried in the commercial dryer. The rags then spontaneoulsy combusted after the drying cycle had completed.

The fire is considered and classified as accidental.


The Department of Public Safety Fire Investigation Unit would like to make the public aware that rags, towels and other cloth materials that are soiled with carbon-based plant and/or animal oils(to include oils such as linseed oil, tung oil, fish oil, lard oil, olive oil, peanut oil and soybean oil) can spontaneously combust under the proper environmental conditions. Each year nationally, thousands of reported fires are attributed to spontaneous combustion of rags/cloths saturated in plant and/or animal oils. 

Regardless of the amount of laundering, these products may be left behind in the fabric. The spontaneous heating process can then accelerated by the heat from the dryer. Cloths saturated in oils such as linseed oil that are stacked or piled on top of each other may spontaneously combust if the proper environmental conditions exist, even without being put into a clothes dryer.

Proper disposal of saturated rags/cloths is recommended and if laundered the items should be air dried.

Petroleum based oils do not possess the chemical makeup necessary to facilitate spontaneous combustion, only plant and animal oils.

For more information please contact your local VT Division of Fire Safety office. 

Detective Sergeant Michael LaCourse
Fire Investigation Unit
Vermont State Police
Troop A - Derby Barracks
35 Crawford Road
Derby, VT
802-334-8881  (***Please note my email address has changed***)