• A sweet business goes up in smoke
     | November 09,2005

    MIDDLESEX – About 40 barrels of honey and his off-site bee hives are all that's left of Richard Drutchas' Bee-Haven Honey Farm, delivering a tough blow to a sweet business that sends Vermont honey all around the nation.

    The Monday night fire that destroyed the barn and honey house at his Putnamville home caused an estimated $100,000 worth of damage, Drutchas estimated.

    Drutchas, who was home at the time, said the fire began in the roughly 30-by-60 foot structure at around 6:30 p.m.. Drutchas said he built the honey house addition onto the 100-year-old barn about three years ago, to use for extracting and bottling honey.

    Firefighters were able to save a second older barn and a connecting structure from burning. Both Drutchas and fire officials have attributed the fire to a faulty electrical source, possibly a honey heater or a new lighting system in the honey house.

    "I was heating up some honey, and it's funny because I've been heating up honey up there for the past 20 years," Drutchas said on Tuesday. "You'd think a breaker would have popped or something."

    On Tuesday morning, Drutchas went about assessing the damage and seeing how much of his honey was still saleable. Drutchas said he's been producing honey commercially at the Norton Road site off Route 12 for about 20 years. His Bee-Haven Honey Farm produces about 60,000 pounds of honey annually that is sold in markets all over the country, he said. None of Drutchas' 600 beehives are located at the Putnamville site.

    Working behind the charred foundation of his business, Drutchas undertook the dreary task of shoveling blackened bits of wood and scrap from the tops of 55-gallon drums. He estimated that about 40 barrels had been saved, amounting to about 25,000 pounds of honey.

    "Some of it's good, some of it's not, that's what I've got to figure out today. It depends how hot it got," Drutchas said while dumping a shovel full of ash and charred wood.

    Behind him, the twisted metal remains of extraction and bottling equipment stood half buried under blackened beams and gray ash. Drutchas estimated that in equipment, jars, labels and miscellaneous items, he'd lost about $40,000. And that didn't include the cost of the buildings.

    "To get it back to the point where I was, it's probably gonna take … $80,000 to $100,000 dollars," he said while looking at the burned remains.

    Drutchas said he planned to rebuild his business but that it would take time. Although insurance would cover some amount of his losses, Drutchas said he didn't believe he would be entirely covered.

    "Unfortunately, it wasn't insured to the max," he said, "That's a lesson to be learned."

    Worcester Fire Chief Kevin Utton said the first tone sounded sometime after six o'clock and that his department was first to arrive at Drutchas' home. He said the Worcester department was assisted by fire crews from Middlesex, Berlin, East Montpelier, Wolcott and Elmore at the fierce blaze. In total, about 50 fire fighters battled the fire that kept crews out until about midnight dealing with hotspots, Utton said.

    "The main barn was totally engulfed when we got there," Utton said. "So we did an exterior attack to stop it from spreading. And we saved more than half of the barn, it's actually two barns connected together with a part in the middle and we saved one of the barns."

    He said based on information he received from Drutchas, electrical wiring was considered the cause of the fire and that no further investigation would take place. Although nobody was seriously injured during the fire, Worcester firefighter James Madore Sr. was treated for smoke inhalation and later released from Central Vermont Medical Center.

    Madore said he was hit with a blast of smoke when he pulled open a barn door on Utton's orders. He was treated by medical technicians at the scene and later taken to the hospital.

    "We tried to do the best we could with what we had for manpower at the time," Madore said. "It was a rough night. I'm supposed to kick back for a few days and relax."

    Drutchas said he was thankful that no one was seriously injured in the fire and grateful for all work done by fire crews. He said the fire departments and Tom Bador of Worcester deserved his thanks for working late into the night and "…breathing in a lot of crap out there."

    "There was a lot of beeswax in there," Drutchas said. "It was a hot fire; it's amazing they stopped it where they did."

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