Karen Dixon was sitting at the front desk of the Hopkinton Town Library about 4:30 p.m. when a lightning strike shook the building. A few uneventful minutes went by before Dixon heard something in the cupola above.
“I looked up and there was fire in the acoustical tile ceiling,” she said. Dixon, two other employees and a volunteer pulled the fire alarm, called 911 and got out of the building as the flames spread. Firefighters arrived to find the cupola ablaze and the building filling with smoke, Hopkinton fire Chief Jeff Yale said. Once the flames were doused, an inch and a half of water puddled on the floor, and the ceiling of the cupola had collapsed onto the desk where Dixon had been sitting.
“I am shocked. That’s my desk,” Dixon said. “That’s where I greet people every day. That’s my life.” Yale said fire crews were trying to preserve as many books and possessions inside the library as possible and close up the holes in the roof. “As we clean up the mess inside, we want to make sure with the storms coming through tonight, we don’t want to continue to add to that,” Yale said.
The library will be closed through the weekend as the extent of fire, water and smoke damage to the building and its contents are evaluated. Townspeople quickly rallied around the library; select board members, friends of the library and library trustees were all at the scene Friday evening, surveying the damage and, later, calling in pizzas from Dimitri’s Pizza while first responders and a clean-up crew sucked water from the building.
“The library is definitely the center of the community,” said Hopkinton select board chairman Jim O’Brien by phone. “We’re already hearing from people asking how they can help.”
“We’re just sort of in shock,” said Amy O’Brien, Friends of the Hopkinton Town Library president.
The damage was pervasive, Jim O’Brien said – many of the library’s collections were damaged by smoke and water as crews put the blaze out. Yale said the sprinkler system did its job, but it flowed water until the fire department shut it down after the fire was fully extinguished.
O’Brien said an assessment of the building and its contents, as well as whether any programming could continue at the library, would be done over the next few days, and that a solution would be discussed at the select board meeting on Monday.
Though the damage was bad, O’Brien said he was sure the town would continue to support its library. “Knowing the people of Hopkinton, I’m sure they’ll try to get it back on their feet,” he said.
O’Brien said he was grateful to mutual aid responders for responding quickly to the fire. Emergency personnel from Boscawen, Concord, Hillsborough, Henniker, Warner, Bow and the Capital Area Compact Chief responded to the scene, according to the Hopkinton fire Facebook page.
Last month, a similar storm caused a trio of fires from lightning strikes in Concord, Bow and Hooksett. Fire destroyed the steeple of the Crossroads Community Church in Bow on July 17.