The Explosion that Rocked North Grand

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Back in 1989, while on a ski trip with Arnold Gould and his friend Lloyd Cliff, Lloyd happened to mention that a foreclosure sale was coming up on the house and property next to him. Learning that the property consisted of 13 acres piqued my interest. My father convinced me to attend the auction, and before I knew it I was the owner of a house in terrible shape and property in even worse shape. Let’s back up a bit prior to the bidding at the auction. When I attended the showing of the property, the potential bidders were not allowed in the basement. All the basement windows were covered with black plastic and the furnace was lying out in the back yard along with sumac, pricker bushes and scrub brush. A myriad of coops made of pallets and wire for fighting roosters adorned the back yard. You would think all of this would have been a clue!

After the purchase the cleanup began. When I saw the basement and lower garage shelves loaded with jars full of chemicals, I called the Suffield Fire Department to find out how to dispose of these unidentified substances. I later found out that the previous owner was a chemist who had worked for Stanley Home Products. Evidently his hobby was collecting chemicals and storing them in unlabeled jars. Tom Bellmore, retired Fire Chief, came out to see what I had. After many phone calls it was determined that DEEP needed to be notified to identify and dispose of these chemicals.

Now the battle begins, who is going to pay for this chemical clean up? I hired Attorney Robert Steele (yes, Broadcaster Bob Steele’s son) to represent me. The cost for this portion of the cleanup was $80,000. Fortunately, it was determined that I was not libel for the cleanup as the chemicals had not been disclosed to me.

Also in the lower garage were three 55-gallon barrels of gas that the previous owner had saved. The yard being such a mess took many days of chainsaw work. Where to put the debris, hmm. Oh, I know, I will put it in the big pit in the ledge that runs across my back yard and burn it. Each time I filled the pit with brush and small trees and prior to burning, I would then get a burning permit from the Fire Department. Thank God I did this.

One hot July day, I filled the pit and using too much of that saved up gasoline, I doused the debris and proceeded to light it with the last match in the book of matches. The match went out! I ran to get more matches which took a couple of minutes. When I returned I was aware of probable vaporizing, so I crinkled up a piece of paper, lit it and threw it on the pile. KA-BOOM! It exploded sending flames high into the air. The vacuum created by the upward explosion pulled the windows out of the house and is the reason that I didn’t get hurt. Not a scratch. As I looked up at my cousin standing on the porch he calmly stated, “Way to go Miller”.

That ledge I mentioned runs a good distance up and down North Grand St. so the shock wave was felt by many neighbors. One neighbor, Charlie Moskwa, had come home from working a long shift and was sleeping on the couch when he was jolted awake by the sound and shock wave. Fearing it was a plane crash, he rolled off the couch and took cover under his coffee table. Our neighbor Bob Howe was looking out his kitchen window and saw it happen. What a sight that must have been. Other neighbors later reported that pictures fell off their walls. It didn’t take long for the Fire Department to receive many phone calls and soon sirens were blaring down North Grand to the scene of the mishap. It was quite embarrassing having to explain my brilliant plan to the Fire Chief and police officer who came to the scene. The police officer said, “Next time use diesel fuel,” but in a stern manner Tom said, “Use newspaper.”

To this day, 34 years later, the town’s people still remember and remind me of that hot July day. If they didn’t see, hear or feel that explosion and fire, they sure did hear about from those who did.

Well, I don’t need to have large fires anymore, but if I do need to burn some brush I remember Tom’s wise words “Use newspaper”!

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