The 5 Fire Day

The 5 Fire Day

The number of arsons across the United States skyrocketed during the 1960s and ‘70s, most famously in urban America, but also in small towns. On Sunday, March 20th 1966, Milford fire fighters raced here and there, putting out five fires in a single day, all of which local authorities assumed had been intentionally set.

The fire department had been busy that year, having dealt with another suspected arson on Elm Street at the White Elephant store that brought down a 100-year-old four-story factory building in January. This time they answered the bell at 12:36 AM when the Hayward’s milk and ice cream plant further down Elm Street was on fire. A storage facility burned to the ground resulting in hundreds of gallons of partially saved ice cream becoming pig’s feed. Soon fire fighters were dashing over to Union Street to Margaret Howison’s large yellow barn. Two cars and the interior of the structure was destroyed before firefighters gained control.

When two large chicken houses at Dewey Smith Farm at Cricket Corner in Amherst sent the fire trucks scurrying again, it made three fires burning within two hours. Later in the day, fatigued firefighters made things worse when Milford’s Number 2 fire truck, yet again speeding through town to a sawdust fire at Lorden Lumber, crashed into two cars, one moving and one parked, resulting in two damaged cars but no serious injuries.Finally, a trip to Kendall Gas Storage turned up papers and kindling next to a barn door and rags that had been stacked on the floor of a truck that caught on fire. Luckily, two gas tanks avoided explosion.

Investigators were at a loss. Commenting the following week on the inquiry, the Milford Cabinet devoted part of its front page to a “Big story that remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma” and telling readers that “the facts may never be known.” Since “all fires appear to have been set…officials were following up on every clue and hunch, but nothing has changed.” Like many towns without a devoted fire investigation unit, the fire department was forced to do its best without ever knowing, as the Cabinet printed in bold type on its front page, “Who Dunnit?”

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