WILTON — Embers from a chimney caused a grass fire Wednesday that destroyed a wood cabin built by a man known for hosting free country music concerts for the community.

Larry Bisbee started a fire in his cabin’s wood-burning stove and went to a store about 6 p.m., returning 20 minutes later to find his home engulfed in flames. He ran to a neighbor’s home and had them call 911, according to Fire Chief Sonny Dunham.

About 55 firefighters responded to the emergency call and extinguished the fire within about an hour. Dunham said sparks had shot out of the chimney and caught nearby leaves and grass on fire before spreading to the one-story home on U.S. Route 2 and gutting it.

Bisbee had built the cabin over a 20-year period and was constantly adding to it, according to longtime neighbor Annette Cautillo. He didn’t return a message left on his cell phone Thursday.

Cautillo said Bisbee often invited the community over on Sundays for country music concerts.

“Even if you just thought you could play the guitar, he would give you a chance to perform,” she said. “It was always a nice neighborhood gathering and everybody had a great time.”

Cautillo, 72, recalls attending the big blowout concerts Bisbee hosted the third weekend of July each year, bringing in nearly 100 musicians, from bagpipers to well-known country music acts.

Bisbee wouldn’t charge people to attend the concerts, instead asking for donations to help him build a country music museum at the site, she said, adding he also used the money to establish an annual scholarship fund given to local students who wanted to study music.

The partially finished museum, another wooden building flanked by a roughly 12-foot-tall statue of a man wearing a checkered shirt, is visible from the highway and was untouched by the fire.

The charred remains of Bisbee’s home are about a hundred yards away behind a cluster of trees, the tin roof collapsed with dark black charred streaks covering the sections of cabin still standing.

Cautillo on Thursday said Bisbee is about 70 years old, but was still always outside working to finish the museum or improve his house before the fire.

“I’ve watched him build up that place for 20 years and it’s such a shame to see him lose all that hard work,” she said.

Six area fire departments assisted Wilton Fire Department Wednesday evening, with numerous water tanker engines and pump trucks shuttling water from a nearby stream to squelch the fire, Dunham said. No injuries were reported.

Bisbee didn’t have insurance on his home and is staying with friends who live nearby, Dunham said.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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