River Dave to be released from jail after his cabin burned down

  • Smoke rises Wednesday from the burnt remains of a cabin in Canterbury inhabited by 81-year-old David Lidstone, who for 27 years has lived in the woods of New Hampshire along the Merrimack River in the once small, solar-paneled cabin. Courtesy of Canterbury Fire Department

  • The cabin that David Lidstone, 81, has built and lived in for nearly three decades in the woods of Canterbury is seen prior the fire. Courtesy of Jodie Gedeon

  • David Lidstone Courtesy of Jodie Gedeon

  • The shack that David Lidstone, 81, has built and lived in for nearly three decades in the woods of Canterbury. It burned down on Wednesday. Courtesy of Jodie Gedeon

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    This undated photo provided by Jodie Gedeon shows David Lidstone, 81, who for nearly three decades has lived in the woods of Canterbury, N.H. along the Merrimack River in a shack, growing his own food and cutting his firewood. He's now jailed after not complying with a court order to leave, and there's a growing petition to just let "River Dave" live out his days off the grid. (Jodie Gedeon via AP) Jodie Gedeon

  • The Canterbury Fire Department extinguishes the blaze that destroyed David Lidstone’s cabin in Canterbury on Aug. 4. Courtesy of Bob Albini

  • The Canterbury Fire Department extinguishing the blaze that destroyed David Lidstone's cabin in Canterbury on August 4. Courtesy of Bob Albini

  • The Canterbury Fire Department extinguishing the blaze that destroyed David Lidstone's cabin in Canterbury on August 4. Courtesy—Bob Albini

Published: 8/5/2021 12:32:26 PM

Still locked in jail, David Lidstone was helpless to save the camp he built and called home for the past 27 years when it burned to the ground Wednesday.

Horace Clark, a cousin of Lidstone’s who lives in Vermont, called the fire both “sad and sick.”

The New Hampshire State Fire Marshal’s Office said Thursday 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.

Lidstone, 81, lived in the woods along the Merrimack River and was known by locals as “River Dave.” He was jailed on July 15 on a civil contempt sanction after he refused to leave the land that he called home. On Wednesday, a judge told him 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.

Hours after the court hearing, a fire reduced the cabin to ashes. Canterbury Town Administrator Ken Folsom said there were no injuries and that the fire was extinguished. 

Bob Albini and his wife have been Lidstone’s closest neighbors for four years. Their house is located a mile off the road and another half-mile north of Lidstone’s camp. Albini said that Canterbury Police and Fire came to his door Wednesday afternoon to tell him about the blaze and ask whether he had seen anyone in the area. 

Albini hopes the fire marshal’s office conducts a rigorous review.

“I think they need to do a thorough investigation and figure out who did that,” he said. “It’s really malicious. I can’t believe that anybody would do that to another person.”

The Fire Marshal’s Office deferred questions about the blaze 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 Concord. He had solar panels, grew most of his food from seed and used a wood stove to stay warm in the winter. He told a judge during Wednesday’s court appearance that he had no desire to comply with the order to leave the cabin. 

Lisa Snow Wade, the attorney representing landowner Leonard Giles, had said that Giles’ sons planned to begin dismantling the cabin but would not say when they planned to visit the land because they didn’t want to encounter protesters, the Union Leader reported.

Jodie Gedeon, a friend of Lidstone who has led the effort to allow him to stay on the land, said that before the fire, most of Lidstone’s belongings were moved to his greenhouse, which was not destroyed. A chicken coop attached to the cabin did burn.  

On Thursday, Gedeon said Lidstone’s chickens and two cats were still on the property. She knows a farm that can take the chickens, and she can take his cats.

“The challenge is going to be figuring out how to group these chickens and get them into the cage and get them out through the river,” Gedeon said. 

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.

Some local landowners have offered to sell or lease land to Lidstone so he can continue his way of life. Gedeon hopes Lidstone and Giles can come to an agreement that allows Lidstone to build a small camp on the land, rather than a full cabin. 

“Ideally what we’d like is for them to reconsider and do the moderated resolution where the landowner could lease the portion of land that David’s camp was on,” she said. Then, she said, his supporters can work on installing a state-approved outhouse, create road access to the area and seek the necessary permits from the Town of Canterbury. She said she is confident her group can raise enough money to fund a solution. 

River Dave was expected to be released Thursday from the Merrimack County jail in Boscawen.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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