By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — Fire officials may never know what sparked the blaze that destroyed the historic Old Groton Inn a week ago, but whatever happened, they say it was an accident.
Fire investigators have ruled out arson as a cause of the Aug. 2 fire that destroyed much of the 333-year-old inn at 128 Main St. They also ruled out lightning as a cause, according to Town Manager Mark Haddad, who said the result of the investigation is inconclusive.
“Something in the attic — probably electrical — but it’s not a 100 percent answer,” Haddad said.
Fire officials, including those from the state Fire Marshal’s office, wrapped up their on-site investigation Friday and released the property back to inn owner George Pergantis the same day. Haddad believes police also concluded their investigation into the fire. Police Chief Donald Palma did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.
Tenants of the eight apartments at the inn complex continue to stay elsewhere while Pergantis tries to make the place habitable again. According to the notice that the Nashoba Associated Boards of Health sent to Pergantis Aug. 4, all the apartment units have been condemned, even though most of the units escaped fire damage.
The American Red Cross provided assistance to six of the families who lived at the apartments on the first night after the fire. Pergantis offered to arrange temporary housing for the tenants from the second night on, according to the Red Cross.
The main reason for the condemnation is the lack of water. The water pipe goes through the front section of the complex destroyed by fire, according to the Board of Health. The property has regained access to electricity since the condemnation letter was sent.
But Pergantis has a lot more to repair than restoring water access in order to have his tenants move back in, because the inspector found a list of code violations. The violations range from “chipping and peeling paint” to rotting supports for an exterior stairway. Torn and missing window screens, rotten and damaged wooden siding and sills, broken windows, a hole in the hallway ceiling, and the condition of the chimney with loose and missing bricks are also on the list.
Pergantis will also need to remove lead paint, as there is a 3-year-old child living in an apartment.
The Nashoba Associated Boards of Health has ordered Pergantis to correct all the problems within 30 days. Pergantis kept busy working around the buildings in an effort to bring them up to code in time.
Complete with a row of dormers facing Main Street, the Old Groton Inn has served as a reminder of Groton’s Colonial past. Many residents have already expressed interest in seeing pieces of the inn preserved, and the Historical Commission has pledged to work with Pergantis to salvage any historical remnants it can.
John Ott, president of the Groton Historical Society, said Monday that the agency is hoping to locate an old mural that may be buried under layers of wallpaper in the front section of the inn and save it. The mural may have been created by Jonathan Poor, nephew of American folk artist Rufus Porter, between 1834 and 1840, according to Ott.
If Poor’s mural is salvageable, Pergantis may be willing to donate it to the Historical Society, Ott said. But Ott doubts that anything could be taken out of the building without putting people at risk.