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Demolition of fire-ravaged building gets held up

July 22, 2013

UXBRIDGE – The fire-ravaged Bank Building on South Main Street will be demolished, but when the wrecking ball starts swinging will all depend on the property owner next door to the building.

Fire Chief William T. Kessler said Monday that demolition of the 118-year-old three-story late Victorian-style building at 32 South Main St., which was gutted by a massive fire last Thursday, was scheduled to take place Saturday until a neighboring abutter and business -Keegan Construction - intervened and retained legal counsel relative to concerns about how the demolition might impact its property.

A meeting between the town and the abutter was slated to be held yesterday to discuss insurance issues. Once those issues are cleared up, demolition by demolition company, J.R. Vingaro, will begin, said Kessler, adding the entire process should be completed within a day.

In the meantime, South Main Street (Route 122) remains closed to traffic and the street is sealed off between High Street and the traffic light at the intersection of South Main Street and Route 16. While motor vehicle traffic is being detoured around the fenced-in fire site, the downtown area is open to foot traffic and downtown businesses remain open.

The fate of the building was still up in the air last Friday pending an inspection by structural engineers that day to determine whether or not the historic building should be demolished. Uxbridge Building Inspector Nelson Burlingame had already made a determination that the building needs to come down, but Kessler said the town needed a similar determination by structural engineers from the insurance company.

That determination was made late Friday when an assessment revealed that parts of the building could collapse.

“The engineers found that the front and back of the building have weak spots that could fall out under certain circumstances,” Kessler said.

Firefighters from more than 25 communities fought last Thursday’s six-alarm blaze, which broke out just before 2 p.m. after smoke was seen billowing out of the third floor. The building housed seven apartments on the second and third floors and two businesses - Bridals by Rochelle and Diversified Signs and Awnings – on the fist floor. There were no injuries to any of the tenants who were evacuated from the building, but two firefighters were sent to the hospital where they were treated and released for heat exhaustion. An estimated 20 residents living in six occupied apartments are homeless and being assisted by the Red Cross.

Uxbridge's People First Food Pantry has helped set up a fund to assist the fire victims. Anyone wishing to donate can send a check made out to the '32 South Main St. Fire Fund,' c/o Savers Bank, 6 North Main St., Uxbridge, MA 01569.

As for the cause of the fire, Kessler said it started in a concealed space above the third floor and that some evidence points to it being electrical in nature, But because there was not enough evidence to conclude that, the cause is officially being labeled as undetermined, the chief said.

South Main Street is home to three other brick-façade historic buildings, all of which are listed in the National Historic Registry and located in close proximity to one another.

The Bank Building at 32 South Main St., the Taft Brothers Block at 2-8 South Main St., and the Uxbridge Passenger Depot at 28 South Main St., were all listed in the historic registry in 1983. The fourth building, Uxbridge Town Hall, which is located almost directly across from the Bank Building, was built in the 1880s and added to the historic registry 100 years later.

The fire was the biggest fire in Uxbridge since the Bernat Mill fire five years ago. The former yarn mill on Mendon and Depot Street was destroyed on July 21, 2007 when a fire erupted inside the historic mill. About 600 firefighters from 66 communities battled the blaze, but the complex was nearly totally destroyed. It took three days to extinguish the flames fully.

(Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7)

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