River Dave lived in the woods for decades, his cabin burned as he sat in jail fighting eviction

A photo by firefighters shows the burned remains of River Dave's cabin. (Canterbury Fire Department)

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.

David 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 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.


81-year-old David Lidstone, known as 'River Dave' appears in court via video conference.

Fire destroyed the cabin on Wednesday afternoon. The Canterbury Fire Department says crews responded to a call for heavy smoke in the area of Oxbow Rd. and Riverland.

Arriving crews encountered a significant amount of smoke in the area and saw a large plume of smoke rising a distance into the woods.

The access road was not accessible using a fire truck so crews used an off-road UTV to check out the source of the fire.


A photo by firefighters shows the burned remains of River Dave's cabin. (Canterbury Fire Department)

They found the camp structure fully engulfed and mostly collapsed upon itself.  The surrounding woods were also on fire.

The camp, referred to as ‘River Dave’s homestead' was approximately 2 miles into the woods and took 15-minutes for the UTV to make it to the site from the road.

Crews searched adjacent outbuildings and property for any other people but they came up empty.

Firefighters pumped water from the Merrimack River to extinguish the fire.  It took about 2 hours for crews from 8 fire departments to finish the job..

The fire marshal's office said it is investigating the blaze. Lt. Dave Nelson of Canterbury Fire said he expects the investigation to take a few days.

Get breaking news alerts in the free FOX5NY News app!   |   Sign up for FOX 5 email newsletters

"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 capital city of Concord. He told a judge during a 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'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."


A photo by firefighters shows the burned remains of River Dave's cabin. (Canterbury Fire Department)

The Associated Press contributed to this report.