WOLFEBORO — Hunter's Shop n' Save was reduced to rubble Monday night following a massive fire that saw at least 10 fire departments responding.
Hunter's, located at 60 South Main Street in Wolfeboro, was a family-owned independent grocery store carrying Hannaford products. Its sister stores are in Glen and Gray, Maine. Their owner, Daniel Craffey of Harrison, Maine, also owns Lee's Family Trailer Sales and Camping World, both in Windham, Maine.
Wolfeboro Deputy Fire Chief Nathan Nichols told the Sun on Tuesday morning that the blaze was reported at 9:12 p.m. Monday after the store had closed.
He said, "Thankfully, no one was injured. "The building is a total loss," said Nichols. "It is a pile of rubble right now."
The cause of the blaze is being investigated by the New Hampshire Fire Marshal's Office.
On Tuesday morning, about 12 hours after the fire broke out, a small crowd of employees stood in the supermarket’s parking lot, comforting each other and trying to make sense of the scene.
“It’s devastating, it’s surreal,” said Doreen Scaramello, who has worked as a cashier for the grocery store for the past five years, as well as for a stretch in the 1990s.
She said Hunter’s is a “staple” in the community, a place where shoppers could find food and their neighbors. “It’s a community store; everybody knew everybody," she said.
Luanne Bergeron, grocery manager, had worked at the store for 40 years. She said she valued the convenience of the store’s location, the flexibility of the work schedule and the bonds between coworkers.
“We’re a family, a big family,” Bergeron said. “It’s a close-knit community.”
Store manager Perry Shaw said the building was constructed in either 1969 or 1971, and employed around 50 people. Many of those workers showed up during the night to watch as firefighters worked to contain the blaze. One firefighter pulled down the store’s American flag to protect it from the flames, then ran it back up the flagpole once it was safe to do so.
Shaw said he got a call at around 9:15 p.m. on Monday, and he came down to the store immediately.
He said he was focusing on the fact that the loss was purely material.
“We’re all healthy, no one got hurt. We’ll come back better than ever, as quick as we can,” Shaw said Tuesday morning, the fatigue showing in his eyes.
As for how he was doing emotionally, he said he was still in shock. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The fire chief mentioned a steady wind and "sheer volume of water" needed among the challenges in fighting the fast-moving fire.
"We overwhelmed the hydrant system for a short time," said Nichols, "but we were able to overcome that by setting up three different draft sites once we had those up and running in conjunction with the hydrant system."
Nichols said "drafting" means pulling water from a water source. He said in this case, firefighters were using fire engines to draft water from three different spots on Lake Winnipesaukee.
A crowd gathered to watch the firefighters work, but Nichols said that didn't interfere with their efforts.
Nichols said it wasn't until around 4:30 a.m. that the fire was finally put out.
"This is the largest in-town fire we've had in quite a few years," said Nichols, adding the Wolfeboro Fire Department responded to the Red Jacket Mountain view Resort fire in North Conway last spring.
Conway Fire Chief Steven Solomon said Conway Village Fire Department sent an engine to cover Center Ossipee's station while Center Ossipee responded to the blaze in Wolfeboro.
Nichols said several GoFundMe-type efforts have been set up online to benefit the Hunter's employees.
One, posted by Jack St. Sauveur is titled, "Support for the Workers of Hunters." By Tuesday at 10 a.m., it had already raised nearly $3,400.
"As most know, Hunters caught fire on the night of January 16th," said St Sauveur. "Not only does the town of Wolfeboro lose a great business, but the loyal workers will also lose their jobs. Hopefully as a town we can help raise any money to shoulder some of the burden in finding new jobs."
He also said Poor People's Pub in Wakefield is offering the former grocery store employees free food for a month.
"That's a pretty big deal," said Nichols of the pub's offer.
The Hunter's manager told WMUR-Channel 9 there were about 70 employees and many of them had worked at the store for a long time.
Poor People's Pub, on its Facebook page, said, "In support of our friends at the Hunter's Shop 'N Save, we are offering 'Eat Free January' to all Hunter's employees. Just bring in your pay stub, and your meal is on us. Hunter's is a longtime pillar in our Lakes Region community and coming together in times of need is what this community is all about."
Laconia Daily Sun reporter Adam Drapcho contributed to this article.