By Eric Francis, Standard Correspondent
ROYALTON – A 60-year-old Royalton woman died late Saturday night when her home caught fire just over the Barnard town line on North Road despite frantic efforts by her husband to save her.
Roberta Staples was unable to make it out of the trailer the couple had rented for the last decade behind a farmhouse which sits right across North Road from the intersection with Ox Tail Lane.
As of Sunday, the cause of the blaze remained under investigation.
Neighbors Francis and Carol Zuccalo, who live a few dozen yards down North Road, were awoken at 11:30 p.m. Saturday evening by Timothy Staples, 58, who was pounding on their front door and yelling “My wife! My wife! She’s dying! She’s in the fire!” the Zuccalos recalled in an interview on Sunday.
Francis Zuccalo, a retired firefighter from Springfield, Massachusetts, said at first he didn’t even recognize Staples and wasn’t sure what was going on.
“Well I didn’t know who he was to begin with because I’ve only seen him once or twice before,” Zuccalo explained. “He came up here banging on the door and he was all shook up…no shoes on, in a t-shirt, freezing and screaming and hollering, ‘Let me in the house!’”
Carol Zuccalo, who made the call to 911, said she knew Staples was a drywall installer and said she’d seen him drive past every morning for years but she said she didn’t recognize him either in the state he was in late Saturday night.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Ambroz said Sunday that Staples had been awakened by his wife who yelled for him to get out of their trailer because there was a fire. “Timothy fled from the home but was unable to get back inside due to the extreme heat and smoke,” Ambroz noted.
South Royalton’s volunteer firefighters were initially dispatched to the scene and mutual aid was quickly requested from the Barnard, Bethel and Randolph fire departments as well.
The late-season sleet storm made getting through the ice and snow to the scene especially difficult but the trailer and the attached carport were already completely engulfed before the first fire companies could have hoped to get there, the Zuccalos explained.
Detective Sgt. Ambroz said Sunday that Roberta did not make it out of the residence and a firefighter eventually located her body inside of it. She was removed late Sunday morning and her remains were taken to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Burlington for an autopsy as part of the ongoing investigation into the fire’s cause.
The Vermont State Police are asking anyone who might have any information on the situation to contact either Detective Trooper Christopher Blais at the Royalton Barracks at 802-722-4600 or Detective Sergeant Todd Ambroz at the Williston Barracks at 802-878-7111.