The blaze at the Rocks estate last Wednesday night. Courtesy of Littleton Fire and Rescue. (click for larger version)
February 20, 2019BETHLEHEM—The evening of Wednesday, Feb. 13 saw devastation to property, though no loss of life, during a fire at the Rocks Estate.
Sirens were first heard around 6 p.m., when Emergency Services reported the first fire alarm, and smoke was seen coming from the four-story Tool Building. Within the hour, the fire was upgraded to two alarms.
The fire began in lower level of the Tool Building, an historic space used for office space, social gatherings, and main programming. It would have been 113 years old this year. Now, only its chimney remains. The former electrical plant building was also destroyed. The New Hampshire Maple Museum was undamaged, and Property Manager Nigel Manley's house was saved, despite being adjacent to the blaze. Manley was able to get out safely, and confirmed that all staff were also safe.
Within minutes of the first announcement, a Franconia resident reported nearly every piece of fire equipment head for Bethlehem. Littleton, Whitefield, and Lisbon were called out as well.
By 7 p.m., the Tool Building was engulfed in flames, and a column of red smoke was reported by multiple eyewitnesses in Littleton.
The section of Route 302 at the base of the hill was closed to civilian traffic while emergency crews made their way in—the white and red lights of ambulances and fire trucks added to the unnatural illumination.
One group of locals climbed the hill to watch the blaze progress, with many taking pictures while they did.
Emergency crews removed propane tanks and capped water lines at the site. By the next morning, the flames had mostly died down, though the blackened foundations still seeped smoke.
Forest Society President Jane Difley expressed relief that no one was hurt, and gratitude to emergency services and for the support of the wider community.
"Operationally, it's a big loss," Manley said.
Farm equipment and computers were destroyed, and debris cleanup will continue for some time.
As the fire progressed, and in the charred aftermath, many residents shared thoughts and memories of the site, which has overlooked Bethlehem and surrounds for so many years.
"I had a life changing event at the Rocks Estate," wrote Samantha Buote Walker. "Married my best friend and entered into the arms of an amazing family and their equally amazing friends."
"This is so sad," remarked Paige Cloutier. "So many memories up there."
"That place has been there forever," added James Clough.
The 1,400-acre Rocks Estate was originally owned and built by the Glessner family. The Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests purchased the property in 1978, and has run a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm since, as well as educational programming related to bees, maple syrup, and other agricultural legacies.
Looking to the future, Manley will assess the Rock's ability to continue planned programming, including booked events. An alternative venue is being sought for the April 6 Maple Dinner.
The Forest Society has set up a fund for donations towards restoring operations at the Rocks. The Rocks Fire Fund is available online, through the Society's Web site.