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Fires at Wampanoag in West Hartford Not Likely Arson, Officials Say

Fire damage to the clubhouse at Wampanoag Country Club visible Sunday afternoon, April 21, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Two structure fires at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford occurred on Saturday and Sunday, April 20 and 21.

By Ronni Newton

Officials continue to investigate two fires that occurred last weekend at Wampanoag Country Club in West Hartford – the second of which completely gutted the nearly-70-year-old clubhouse building – and said Tuesday that it has been determined that it does not appear the fires were intentionally set.

The West Hartford Fire Department on Tuesday announced the results of an initial investigation, and said investigators do not suspect arson or believe there is any ongoing threat to the public. It appears, Tuesday’s announcement states, that the second fire, which was reported in the early morning hours of April 21, was “likely a continuation” of the April 20 fire.

“These are preliminary findings shared for the benefit of public interest, transparency, and timely information,” West Hartford Fire Chief Greg Priest said in a statement. “Full investigations of each fire will take a significant amount of time and there is additional evidence that must be considered before arriving at any final conclusions. The continuation of any fire after it was believed to be extinguished is cause for concern, and our full investigation will seek to confirm the circumstances and conditions that led to a continuation of the fire, if that is in fact what occurred.”

There has not yet been final determination of the cause of the first blaze. “Fire investigations can be very time-consuming and lengthy,” Priest told We-Ha.com. “We must follow a methodical and impartial process before we can arrive at a conclusion.”

In addition to the West Hartford Fire Marshal’s Office, the Connecticut State Police Fire Explosion and Investigation (FEIU) as well as the West Hartford Police Department’s Detective Division, have been involved in the investigation.

Wampanoag Country Club was set to rebuild and restore the clubhouse after a fire early Saturday morning, and contractor vehicles and generators were present at the site to begin the process when the second fire occurred. The first fire, which caused significant but reparable damage, was reported at 2:10 a.m. Saturday by an employee who was at the site but managed to evacuate without injury.

That fire appeared to originate in the area of the loading dock, which is at the east end of the building, but when crews arrived there was also smoke pouring from multiple areas of the roof, and from several 20-pound propane tanks. The attic area contained multiple hard-to-reach areas, where pockets of fire that were otherwise inaccessible needed to be addressed from ladders and the roof.

The second blaze was called in to 911 by a neighbor who saw the structure completely engulfed in flame. That fire was reported at 2:18 a.m. Sunday, and when fire units arrived on the scene at 2:23 a.m., heavy fire was visible at the clubhouse, which had been updated and renovated roughly five years ago, and a portion of the structure had already partially collapsed, Priest said on Sunday.

Fire damage visible Sunday afternoon at the rear of the clubhouse at Wampanoag Country Club. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Glenn Cunningham, the president of Wampanoag Country Club, told We-Ha.com on Monday that the club plans to “build back better” and construct a new clubhouse. He expressed optimism about resuming golf activities by the weekend because the course itself is completely intact, as well as being able to hold golf-related activities, including tournaments and the celebration of the club’s 100th anniversary throughout the upcoming season. They are working with other clubs and area businesses to relocate scheduled events and celebrations – such as bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, confirmation parties, showers, and weddings.

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