Vermont State Police and Division of Fire Safety recognizes Arson Awareness Week

Vermont Business Magazine The U.S. Fire Administration has designated the week of May 5 -11, 2024, as Arson Awareness Week.  This year marks the 50th year of this effort. In 2024, the USFA’s focus is on protecting houses of worship. 

Each year from 2020 to 2022, an estimated average of 1,300 fires in places of worship were reported to fire departments in the United States. These fires resulted in an estimated annual average of $74.6 million in property loss. The leading cause of fires in places of worship was cooking (33%), but intentional actions accounted for an additional 15%.  For additional information please go to the USFA website at

Arson robs communities of their valuable assets, lives, and property. More than just destroying or damaging buildings, arson can devastate a community and result in negative effects through increased insurance premiums, loss of business revenue, and a decrease in property values.

In Vermont, investigating potential arson incidents is the responsibility of the Department of Public Safety Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit (FEIU). This unit is a collaborative team comprised of detectives from the Vermont State Police and fire investigators from the Division of Fire Safety – State Fire Marshal’s Office.  This team has the responsibility of assisting our local fire chiefs with determining the origin and cause of fire and explosion events with the goal of making Vermont communities safer.

The Vermont Arson Tip Award Program was formed in 1984 by the insurance and banking industry as a nonprofit association. The main objective was to solicit public feedback and identify fire setters.  The Vermont Arson Tip Award Program is a separate entity from the Department of Public Safety, and through funding from insurance companies offers a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest in criminal cases.  The tip line number is 800-32-ARSON (1-800-322-7766).

The tips that have been generated in this program have developed into many prosecutable cases, while thousands of dollars in awards have been returned to the callers. The Vermont Arson Tip Award Program operates with members of the insurance agencies, banking and insurance, fire departments, and the Vermont State Police. Public service announcements are also a big part of the program as education and awareness is vital to the success of fighting arson. 

In 2023, FEIU responded to 155 calls across Vermont.  Of these, 30 were determined to be the result of criminal actions.  Many of these fire incidents are still under investigation.  FEIU also continues to investigate fires from previous years as well.

Some of the open investigations are listed below:

Unsolved Homicide

PMI Fire

Lyndonville, VT

September 4, 1998

Responsible Agency: Vermont State Police - Major Crime Unit

Eugene McDonough

Eugene McDonough

This case, known as the PMI fire, involved a fire at PMI, a company based in Lyndonville that manufactured large rolls of paper.  The PMI commercial building caught fire and burned.   St. Johnsbury Firefighter Eugene McDonough died during suppression efforts when a wall collapsed on top of him.  

During this investigation, the cause of this fire was determined to be arson. Due to the cause classification, Eugene McDonough’s death has been ruled a homicide. This case remains unsolved.     

Arson Investigation

Eaton’s Sugarhouse

Royalton, VT

October 31, 2019

Fire crews were dispatched to a large fire at a landmark restaurant on Nov. 1, 2021.  Crews battled the blaze for several hours before bringing the fire under control.  The building and its contents were destroyed.

FEIU investigators responded to the scene and determined the cause of the fire was the result of direct human involvement and classified as an incendiary fire (arson).

Rod’s Mobile

Arson Investigation

Rod’s Mobile

October 9, 2021

40 Main Street, Putney, VT

On Oct. 9, 2021, the Putney Fire Department was dispatched to a fire at a service station on Main Street in Putney.  When firefighters arrived, they discovered heavy fire along the rear of the building that is used to store tires and other supplies for the service station.  The Putney Fire Department was able to suppress the fire with the assistance of several area fire departments that responded to the 3-alarm fire.

FEIU investigators responded and conducted a scene examination.  The cause of the fire is still under investigation but is believed to be the result of direct human involvement. The circumstances surrounding the fire are considered criminal in nature.   

The business reopened within a year of the fire, however it took more than two years to fully recover at a cost of more than $1 million. 

Arson Investigation  January 31, 2023  246 Main Street, Winooski, VT

Arson Investigation

January 31, 2023

246 Main Street, Winooski, VT

On Jan. 31, 2023, at about 5:50 a.m., the Winooski Fire Department was dispatched to a fire at 246 Main Street in Winooski.  When crews arrived, they discovered the second floor of the north side of the building fully involved with fire, and the fire had extended to two other residential homes on Stevens Street.  The five-alarm fire took several hours to suppress.

FEIU investigators responded to the scene and determined the fire originated in a second-floor apartment that was occupied at the time of the fire.  The tenant was treated for minor injuries and released.

Three businesses occupied the building as well.  These businesses were forced to close, and their inventory was destroyed.  Two families residing in the Stevens Street homes were displaced, and the homes were a complete loss.  The damage to the building and businesses was estimated to be more than $1 million.

The cause of the fire has been classified as undetermined; however the fire was determined to be the result of direct human involvement. 

A year later, Jan. 16, 2024, the same buildings caught fire when a person lit a fire to warm himself from the cold.  The fire quickly spread to all three structures before the fire department could suppress the flames.  Two of the three buildings were torn down due to the risk of collapse.  This fire cost the property owner more than $60,000 to remove the debris.  An arrest was made in this case by the Winooski Police Department.  Two firefighters were injured while suppressing the blaze.

The damage to the building and businesses was estimated to be more than $1 million.

Source: WATERBURY, Vermont - May 8, 2024 — VT State Police. Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit

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