Conway community steps up to rebuild fire-damaged sugarhouse

Mar 23 2015

CONWAY — When a “packed to the rafters” wood storage area at Boyden Bros. Sugarhouse caught fire Sunday, owner Howard Boyden was sure his maple business was about to go up in smoke.

“If we lost the sugarhouse, it would have put me out of business,” Boyden said. “There’s over $200,000 in there. It’s not insured; you just can’t get insurance for a sugarhouse.”

That could’ve meant the end of the business’ 50-year history. It was started by Boyden’s father and uncle in the 1960s. The other family business, Boyden Bros. Dairy, has been in operation for about 250 years, and is now run by Boyden’s cousins.

While Boyden won’t get a check for the sugarhouse damages, there’s one thing he could bank on — the selflessness of his friends, family, neighbors and fellow sugarers.

“This is community at its finest,” he said while about two dozen volunteers helped clean up the damage and repair the structure Monday.

“Howard’s well known as someone who’s always willing to help others,” said Nick Filler. “It’s no surprise that there are people here with nothing to do because there are already so many people helping.”

Boyden’s not used to being on the receiving end.

“I’ve been on the other end of something like this a lot,” Boyden said. “It’s humbling to have everyone helping me.”

While Boyden will rebuild, he’ll make one minor adjustment.

“I learned a lesson,” Boyden said. “I’ll never build a wood shed next to the sugarhouse again. I’ll haul it in by the pallet.”

Besides the destroyed woodshed and slightly damaged sugarhouse, losses were kept low.

“My sap tank was full, and that saved it,” he said.

He had to dump the 300 gallons of sap that it held.

“It was enough to make 15 gallons of syrup, but we could lose that much from a leaking sap line in the woods.”

The tank itself was a bit scorched, but Boyden’s confident he can clean it up and reuse it.

When the fire broke out Sunday, Boyden feared the worst.

“When I saw the fire, I went inside, got everyone out and told them we’re losing the building,” Boyden said. “I thought about it for a minute, then I said ‘no, we’re not losing it.’”

A former fire captain, Boyden went back in, grabbed a garden hose and started to spray down the partition between the burning woodshed and the main sugarhouse with his sap evaporator. Hose in hand, he waited for the Fire Department.

“It was the longest 10 minutes of my life,” he said.

He could slow the fire on his own, but couldn’t stop it. He’s sure it would have spread farther if a passerby hadn’t rushed to his aid.

“Stanley Ostrowski came by, grabbed my two big fire extinguishes and sprayed them underneath the door,” Boyden said. “The two of us were able to hold it at bay. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

As they fought the blaze, the former fire captain formulated a plan of attack, and was ready to advise the firefighters when they arrived.

“When they showed up, they never questioned me,” Boyden said. “They acted as if I was the incident commander. There’s a lot of respect both ways.”

With the right equipment, a good plan and some heavy-duty hoses, their teamwork was able to save most of the building.

Monday, they set to work with saws, hammers and dozens of hands, and were able to button up the building and protect it from the elements.

As long as it warms up enough for the sap to run, Boyden hopes to be boiling again by Thursday. Either way, he said, the sugarhouse will be open for retail.

Help the Boydens stay sweet by contributing to their rebuilding efforts here.

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