Bennington

Inn owner: Fire suspicious

Three fire, vandalism incidents reported since 2001

BENNINGTON — There are few new details have been released about the cause of a fire Wednesday at the vacant Highland Inn, but the building’s owner says it follows a suspicious pattern.

The Highland Inn property, which includes three white buildings on Route 47, has been hit by fire or vandalism three times since 2001, owner Bhagirath Joshi of Joshi Hospitality, LLC., said in an interview Monday.

The first fire happened in 2001 and the cause was undetermined, Bennington Fire Chief Mike Roina said in an interview Thursday.

The next incident occurred in 2007 and included theft and damage, Roina said Monday. Roina was not sure of the outcome of the case, though Joshi said kids were found to be responsible for the damage.

Since Joshi bought the property in 1994, he said the buildings have experienced some type of disturbance whenever they are close to becoming ready for occupants. Throughout the years, Joshi has continued to have contractors fix up the buildings so that they can someday be rented out again as condos, he said. Two buildings on the property would function as condominiums while the third would serve as a restaurant, he said. He has not had plans to sell the property in Bennington, and it is unclear exactly how close he is to opening the buildings to residents or a restaurant.

“I don’t know, every time we try to open this happens,” Joshi said. He said local, young kids from Bennington are likely responsible.

“I’m not sure what’s going on,” Joshi said.

Roina would not comment on Joshi’s assertion.

Joshi said he paid $800,000 out of pocket to fix the buildings, following these two instances. Roina said he estimates the cost of damage from Wednesday’s fire to be in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.

The call for the fire came at 4:15 p.m. and was contained by 4:35 p.m., Roina said. By press time, Roina had not received the tapes from 9-1-1 and therefore did not know who first called it in.

The fire began in a supply room on the first floor and the damage was contained to that room, Joshi said. The building was vacant at the time since it is under construction, so there were no reported injuries. Roina said on Thursday that the power to the building in question had been shut off for some time and the caretaker of the building, John Byam, said Monday in an interview that the building has not had electricity for the last five or six years. Multiple agencies responded to the scene, including Bennington, Greenfield, Hancock and Peterborough.

Roina said fire department could not find where the ignition for the fire started therefore the investigation is ongoing by the Bennington police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Roina said that anyone with information about the fire is urged to contact the Bennington Police Department at 588-3409, or the arson hotline at 1-800-400-3526.

Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or larceci@ledgertranscript.com.

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