By BEN ROWE
---- — ST. REGIS FALLS — Almost 20 departments responded to an apartment building fire in the hamlet of St. Regis Falls in the Town of Santa Clara Friday evening.
The St. Regis Falls Volunteer Fire Department received a call at 6:20 p.m. to respond to a fire at 2934 State Route 458.
Assisting St. Regis Falls were departments from Dickinson, Moira, Bangor, Malone, Owls Head, Duane, Saranac Lake, Paul Smiths-Gabriels, Bombay, Brushton and Hogansburg. St. Lawrence County departments that responded included Nicholville, Hopkinton-Fort Jackson, North Lawrence, Lawrenceville and Parishville.
Firefighters from Helena and Tri-Town Rescue stood by at the Saranac Lake Station.
No injuries were reported, but the building was largely destroyed said Adam Cox, second-assistant chief of the St. Regis Falls Fire Department. Cox estimated that there were two or three apartments within the building.
Only an attached kitchen area, from the building’s previous use as a bar and grill, was left standing.
A Franklin County excavator was used to demolish the majority of the building to allow firefighters to extinguish remaining interior hotspots, Cox said.
An attempt was made early on to fight the fire from inside the structure, but firefighters were pulled back out when temperatures rose too high.
With assistance from a Malone tower truck, which uses a bucket to lift firefighters to spray the fire from overhead, firefighters began an exterior attack against the fire.
A second attempt at an interior attack was made later in the night, but firefighters were pulled back out permanently after signs of dangerously high temperatures were noticed.
Firefighters continued the exterior attack throughout the night, focusing heavily on the attic of the building where the fire was difficult to reach.
The St. Regis station already had a plan in place for fighting a fire at the apartment building, Cox said, but the winter weather complicated that plan.
Thick winter ice kept firefighters from quickly using the water flowing in a nearby river. Firefighters had to use a chainsaw to cut through the 18-inch thick ice before they could install portable pumps and transport the water back to the fire.
Cox said the plan went smoothly overall, despite the weather challenges. The stations were back in service by 5:16 a.m.
“It probably would have worked just as good in the summertime, but with the weather and not being able to get into the river, we had to ask for more tankers,” Cox said.
Along with pumping water from the river, the responding departments used a tanker shuttle strategy to move water from St. Regis Falls to Santa Clara. Tankers traveled seven miles to the town to resupply with water, then back to the hamlet to use that water on the fire.
Cox said only one family had been in the building at the time. A father, his son, and their pet dog were going to stay temporarily at the father’s sister’s home, Cox said. It was unknown if the family had renters insurance.
A press release from the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross said assistance was provided to two people after the fire. Replacement glasses and medication were provided along with clothing, seasonal garments and food.