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New England News

Officials: “Major Fire” In Pownal Being Investigated For Arson

The frame of a stadium is filled with smoke and flames as fire crews on foot and on a crane spray it with water
Pownal Fire Department
The former Green Mountain Race Track in Pownal, Vermont early Thursday morning.

An abandoned racetrack in Pownal, Vermont caught fire Wednesday night, leading to a multi-agency response well into today.

The Pownal Fire Department posted on Facebook early Thursday morning that it was battling a “major fire” at the former Green Mountain Race Track just off Route 7 in the Southern Vermont community of around 3,500. Around 12:30 p.m. today, the department said that crews were still on the scene. It thanked over 20 mutual aid agencies from around the region – including New York and Massachusetts – that responded to the fire.

“If you drive by it now, you just see a burned out building that looks pretty good. It isn’t falling down yet. But some of the backside’s well destroyed," said Jim Winchester, who has owned Winchester’s Store across the street from the track for over 40 years. “Whoa, it was glowing! It was on fire. It was coming out both sides of the building and the roof. And the backside, there was a flat roof there with a lot of tarpaper and stuff and the backside where you can’t see it from Route 7 is probably more destroyed.”

The former track has a long history.

“From the 60s, ’62, ’63 on to ’92, I think, with dogs," said Winchester. "So it’s had an enormous history. One of the most historic things about it, it was the first racetrack this side of the Mississippi to race on Sunday which made it really a winner. And prior to that, we weren’t sure if it was going to make it, and then it was very successful. And then it was so successful that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rooneys bought the place and changed it over to dogs, which they wanted to do. And they stayed there until the early 90s, and then they just auctioned it off for – a gentleman bought it for $250,000.”

It’s been sitting vacant for decades.

“It’s been vandalized," said Winchester. "It’s another case where you leave an empty abandoned property and you have absentee owners – you know the story. And the kids go in there and just broke windows and did everything and lit some small fires. Really not big with the fires, but I think somebody did their homework with this one. They’ll see.”

Pownal Fire Chief Keith Coon confirmed to WAMC that the fire is being investigated for arson.

“We don’t really have any idea," said the chief. "We had a couple arson investigators here and stuff. No one’s really determined anything yet. It could be possible, I’m not 100% sure.”

Winchester says this latest development will fuel long running local speculation about the property’s future.

“What can you do with it? What is it?" he asked. "It sits there. Everybody has to drive by. It’s one of those things – something that was really, really good for the town, I guess at the time, now it’s turned into a white elephant. And now it’s a burnt white elephant.”

The Vermont State Police declined to comment.

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