The owner of a Seekonk landmark gutted by fire Sunday morning said he hopes to rebuild after a truck hauling bananas struck a gas meter on the 18th-century building and ignited the blaze.
“It’s been a tough day,” said Greg Esmay, 52, of Warwick, R.I., who has run The Old Grist Mill Tavern on Fall River Avenue with his wife, Suzanne, for 13 years. “We’re hurt and upset, but people have been so nice.”
The restaurant, in a former grain mill dating back to 1745, caught fire when the tractor-trailer tipped on its side and slid into the building, the Associated Press reported, quoting fire officials.
The vehicle hit the gas meter on the building and severed the gas line, triggering the blaze, said Don DiNunno, spokesman for Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, which provides service in the area. Gas service was cut off to 38 customers, DiNunno said.
The truck driver was treated at a local hospital, according to the Associated Press, which said no one was in the building at the time of the blaze.
Esmay said he received a call about the fire at 6 a.m. Flames spread to the tavern’s roof, but firefighters had to stand by and wait until the gas was safely turned off.
“The firefighters were inside putting it out, but then the gas got dangerous and the fire started roaring, and they didn’t know if there would be an explosion,” Esmay said.
Esmay said the only way to safely quench the blaze was to collapse the roof inward, causing an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million in damage.
“The tables are still set nicely with linens and plates, but it now has the roof on top of them,” Esmay said.
Seekonk police and fire officials were not available for comment Sunday afternoon.
Esmay said that much is structurally sound following the fire. He hopes to rebuild it exactly as it looked before the accident, but said he might encounter issues trying to obtain the rare original wood, called pecky cypress. He said the building also withstood a chimney fire in 1957.
“It’s a very unique property with all the angles, peaks, the waterfall, pond, and water wheels,” he said. “The building itself is such an interesting design.”
Francis Cavaco of the Seekonk Board of Selectmen agreed. “It’s significant to the community,’’ he said. “It’s a landmark like Plymouth Rock.”