Fire in former Charlton mill building destroys businesses, injures 6 firefighters

A fire destroyed a former mill building in Charlton that was home to about 10 businesses, and six firefighters were treated from heat exhaustion after battling the blaze, officials said.

One business owner said he had lost more than $2 million in rare classic cars in the five-alarm fire. Gary Cove, 56, of Wilbraham said a 1933 Rolls Royce that had been owned by only one family was one of 14 vehicles that were ruined.

“It’s burned to a crisp,” he said.

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The fire at the Charlton Woolen Mill building broke out around 9 p.m. at 20 City Depot Road, said state fire marshal’s spokeswoman Jennifer Mieth.

Firefighters from about 20 nearby towns fought the flames for more than two hours and heard several explosions, possibly caused by propane tanks stored inside the building.

Charlton Assistant Fire Chief Curtis Meskus said in a telephone interview that because the town has no municipal water supply, a tanker shuttle had to bring water in from Glen Echo Lake.

“A lot of communities don’t have hydrant systems,” Mieth said, adding that firefighting tactics often involve using alternative sources of water.

Firefighters from another 20 towns were on scene today, relieving the crews that had fought the fire, Oxford Fire Chief Sheri Bemis said at the scene.

She said officials were concerned that heating oil or other contaminants from the site might get into nearby wetlands.

It’s a “pretty big task, a daunting task,” she said. “Who knows what has soaked into the wood from the multiple uses over the years?”

Bemis said seven water tanker trucks had been brought in to fight the fire.

“For a mill of this size, [getting enough] water right up front is a problem,” she said.

Cove, who said his clients have included celebrities such as designer Tommy Hilfiger, said about half the cars lost in the fire were his, while the other half were his customers’. He said he was able to save a 1964 Shelby Cobra worth $700,000 and a 1957 Mercedes Benz 300SL valued at $800,000. An Alfa Romeo worth $165,000 was parked outside the building.

Mieth said officials have not yet been able to get into the building safely to investigate.