CHARLTON — Things had finally turned around at Charlton Orchards Farm and Winery.
The installation of solar panels and a growing hard-cider business had provided the family-owned business with new revenue, which led its owners to remove the “For Sale’’ signs last October.
In the coming weeks, Nathan and Cathy Benjamin, the farm’s general managers, were looking forward to bottling new beverages for the fall, they said.
Those dreams are gone.
Late Sunday evening, a massive fire engulfed the Benjamins’ winery, which was built on land first chartered to a Massachusetts settler by England’s King George in 1733, the family said. The winery was completely destroyed.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said the cause of the fire is under investigation. No one was injured, but Nathan Benjamin on Monday questioned whether Charlton fire officials acted quickly enough.
The fire was extinguished at 12:44 a.m, two hours after firefighters were called, a statement from the Charlton Fire Department said.
“Someone has to answer for why [firefighters] let my building burn to the ground,” Benjamin said.
The burned building housed more than 4,000 gallons of wine, bottling equipment, and the Benjamins’ personal records.
As the Benjamin family looked over the wreckage, they tried to quantify the total loss of their life’s work.
Nathan Benjamin, 55, said the family, which includes his parents, wife, and three daughters, has been making wine at the farm since 1999 and began selling it in 2002.
Nathan Benjamin estimated the financial damages to the family, from the lost wine and equipment, at over $100,000. According to the town assessors office, the building that housed the winery was valued at $52,000.
“It’s devastating,” he said. “We had over 100 medals, memorabilia, and we also live here. So there’s pieces of us everywhere you go.”
His daughter, 19-year-old Sarah, said it was difficult to see her parents endure such devastation after working so hard.
“My dad wanted a winery so bad, and he and my mom did this together,” she said. “And then right when everything is going good, it all went [wrong].”
Sarah Benjamin said she was in the family home on the Charlton Orchards and Winery grounds when she heard two loud bangs around 10:30 p.m. Sunday. She then went to her bedroom window, where she could see the flames engulfing the winery, even through her closed curtains.
“I saw the entire roof on fire,” Sarah Benjamin said Monday. “It’s heartbreaking.”
She said she called 911 from her cellphone, and then alerted her immediate family, who was also in the house. The Benjamin family also woke Nathan Benjamin’s parents, who live on the property in their own house, which is closer to winery.
Nathan Benjamin said his parents escaped the home within 20 minutes.
Cathy Benjamin, Nathan’s wife, said the fire began on the ground level of the winery and in a neighboring cow barn. The fire soon spread to all portions of the structure, she said.
“The flames were so big and so hot, thankfully no one got hurt,” Cathy Benjamin said.
“This was total destruction,” Coan, the state fire marshal, said. “The building was fully involved when firefighters arrived about 10:45 p.m.”
Standing atop the rubble of his former winery, Nathan Benjamin questioned the response of the local fire department to the fire.
There was a 20-minute delay between Sarah Benjamin’s 911 call and when the first firetrucks arrived, the family said. Fire officials said they were waiting for water to be trucked into the area, but Nathan Benjamin said he told firefighters there was a pond nearby.
Thirty minutes after trucks arrived and 45 minutes after the call to 911, nothing had been done to curb the spread of the fire, Benjamin said.
“They couldn’t have saved the entire structure, but we could have saved my office and records,” Benjamin said.
In the statement, the Charlton Fire Department said it encountered multiple issues in responding to the fire. The building did not have working fire alarms, the department said.
Also, crews quickly ran out of water and the pond was not compatible with the responding fire company’s apparatus, the statement said.
The farm was open for business Monday in all areas except the winery.
On Facebook, customers of the Charlton Orchards Farm and Winery offered support to the Benjamin family. One well-wisher asked the family to “keep your chins up during the tough times you face.”