The New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office says it has opened an investigation into a fire that destroyed a small cabin where an off-the-grid hermit had lived for almost three decades
CONCORD, N.H. — An off-the-grid New Hampshire hermit known to locals as “River Dave” lost his cabin to a fire on the day he was in court after being forced out of the longtime dwelling, and state authorities have opened an investigation into how the blaze was set.
David Lidstone, 81, lived in the woods along the Merrimack River for nearly three decades. He was jailed on July 15 on a civil contempt sanction and was told he’d be released if he agreed to leave the cabin, which is on property owned by a Vermont man who considers Lidstone a squatter.
Fire destroyed the cabin on Wednesday afternoon, the same day Lidstone appeared in court to defend himself. The fire marshal’s office said it is investigating the blaze, but deferred questions to the Canterbury Fire Department.
Lt. Dave Nelson of Canterbury Fire said he expects the investigation to take a few days and there were no updates available about its cause on Thursday.
“We just had the fire yesterday, it takes a while,” Nelson said.
Lidstone, who is originally from Maine, lived on a woodlot located a few miles from Interstate 93 north of the state’s capitol city of Concord.
He told a judge during the Wednesday court appearance that he had no desire to comply with the order to leave the cabin. Most of his possessions were removed from it before the fire.
Lidstone also said the cabin was not a proper home but rather a hunting and fishing camp. He doesn’t have an attorney for his court case. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for next week, though it was unclear how the case would be altered by the loss of the cabin.
“You came with your guns, you arrested me, brought me in here, you’ve got all my possessions. You keep ’em,” Lidstone told a judge during the court appearance. “I’ll sit here with your uniform on until I rot, sir.”
Lidstone’s off-the-grid lifestyle has made him a folk hero in northern New England, and news of the cabin fire led to sadness and empathy among his supporters. Horace Clark, a cousin of Lidstone’s who lives in Vermont, said the fire was “both sad and sick.”
Clark said the solution going forward should be to “leave the guy alone.”
“He’s not harming anybody,” he said.
Clark added: “If he wasn’t a problem in 27 years, he is not going to be a problem now.”
Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. AP Correspondent Michael Casey contributed from Concord, New Hampshire.