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Investigators Seek Cause Of Fire That Destroyed Hermit’s ‘Wigwam’

May 4, 1987

BOSTON (AP) _ Self-styled hermit Bill Britt slept outdoors on a donated matress and blankets after a fire he blamed on the government destroyed his ″wigwam″ on public land.

Arson investigators were awaiting results Sunday of tests on debris and soil to determine if chemicals were used Saturday to burn down the encampment where Britt has lived off and on since 1969.

Britt spent Saturday night at the fire site using a matress and blankets supplied by friends from nearby Boston College and said he intended to spend Sunday night at the site, despite a drizzle.

″I’ve been through worse that this,″ he told The Associated Press in a call from a pay telephone.

Britt said he already was looking for materials to rebuild his shelter and blamed the fire on ″the government.″

″I can’t prove it at this point,″ Britt said. ″Whoever did it knew what they were doing. Everything I had was burnt beyond recognition. If it was just vandals, they would have searched my things first.″

His daughter, Ingrid, 28, of Belmont, agreed. ″I think it was done purposely,″ she said. ″I don’t think it was done by vandals.″

In recent months Britt has fought the state’s efforts to pry him from what he calls his mattress-and-plastic sheet ″wigwam″ on public land in Chestnut Hill, the affluent suburb where he was born.

Boston arson investigator Lt. Robert Shaw described the fire as ″suspicious.″

Lost in the fire were blankets, plastic jugs Britt used for storage, his mattress and a bedspring, Shaw said.

For years, the generally reclusive Britt, 52, has lived in relative obscurity on five acres of wooded public land adjacent to a city cemetery, the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and Boston College.

But Britt’s fight against the state has attracted national exposure in the press, a celebrity magazine and a radio talk show.

When the fire struck, Britt was on his way back from New York, where he appeared Thursday night on David Letterman’s late night comedy show.

Britt, who writes poems and refuses to accept welfare, is legally blind and lives on money he makes redeeming discarded bottles and cans. He is legally blind.

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