February 4, 2014

Blaze destroys Tupper Lake family's home


---- — TUPPER LAKE — A raging house fire destroyed an Adirondack-style home on Byram Road here Sunday.

The cause was still under investigation Monday at the multi-level house that was home to Rob and Lisa Gillis and their two children, ages 10 and 12. 

“Franklin County Cause and Origin team ruled out electrical and are centering the investigation on a mechanical room with a chimney pipe that passed through it,” said Mark Picerno, second assistant fire chief for Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

The Gillises were not there when the fire erupted about 4:15 p.m.


Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun was visiting family not far from the house, located near the causeway at Simon Pond, and he was first to arrive.

“When I got there, the roofline was totally engulfed. The fire was fast, it was just so fast,” Maroun said.

“The house had a lot of wood and craftsmanship in it. It was an Adirondack-style, beautiful home.”

The family was out at a school event and skating, Maroun said.

Picerno said Tupper Lake had 34 fire company members at the blaze. Providing mutual aid were 15 or so firefighters from Piercefield, Long Lake, Cranberry Lake, Paul Smiths-Gabriels and Lake Placid fire departments.


When firefighters arrived, fire had broken through the roof, he said.

“It had been burning for quite a bit. Due to heavy fire, it was decided it would become a defensive posture. Nobody entered the building,” Picerno said.

But the family dog was inside.

“We broke a back window and called for the dog. He jumped up on the couch and wouldn’t come out,” Picerno said.

So firefighters reached in through the window and got hold of the dog’s collar, pulling him to safety.


There was no nearby hydrant on the dead-end road, so Tupper Lake firefighters posted a pumper truck at the corner of Raquette River and Byram roads near one there, sending the water a quarter mile to the blaze.

“We were then able to set up the large nozzles to surround the structure and fight the fire that way,” Picerno said.

Maroun said firefighters had extinguished the blaze by about 10:30 p.m., but it rekindled just past 11 p.m. and again at 7:30 a.m. Monday.


The home was built in the 1970s, with an addition put on 12 years ago when the Gillises’ son was born.

The mayor said Monday that the Gillis family was temporarily staying at a home owned by Mrs. Gillis’s mother on Simon Pond.

“It was the family’s camp for years.”

Mrs. Gillis works as a school counselor for Tupper Lake Central School District. Mr. Gillis is a real-estate agent. 

He has been family spokesman at times since the disappearance of their nephew Colin Gillis after a party at a private home on Paskungameh Road in March 2012.

As the community has rallied around Colin’s family since then, it is reaching out to help them now.

“I was with (Mr. and Mrs. Gillis) last night, and people were coming over to bring clothes and items for the kids,” Maroun said.


The Gillis home sits on a hill, and the fire was visible for miles, he said.

“It’s just very unfortunate.”

That fire is one of eight since Jan. 26 — over the course of just eight days — in the Franklin County area.

Jarius Chrisjohn, 46; Javin Chrisjohn, 5; and Hunter Chrisjohn, 3, perished when their home at 184 St. Regis Road in Akwesasne burned Jan. 26. 

Pamela Taylor, 45, died in a blaze that destroyed her house in Malone on Jan. 28. 

A fire at 220 Earlville Road in Chateaugay left Marilyn Cown and her two children homeless on Jan. 29, and that same day, firefighters were called to a fire at 5576 Route 11 in Burke where a mobile home was destroyed.

Fire consumed the former Santa Clara Lodge in St. Regis Falls on Friday night.

Firefighters battled a blaze at No. 1 Chinese restaurant at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Broadway in Saranac Lake on Saturday.

And fire damaged a rental home at 34 First St. in Tupper Lake village just over a week ago.

In December, alone, Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department responded to 29 calls. The count is not final yet for January.

“It’s just been bad,” Maroun said.

“With the very cold weather, people are concerned about freezeups. And with no snow, there is no insulation, and everybody worries about their pipes freezing.”

Email Kim Smith



With the challenging cold this winter, Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department issued words of caution early in January via Facebook, urging people to be careful in keeping their homes warm.

"Please remember (to) use safe methods to thaw frozen pipes. Improper methods or unattended heating devices in close contact with combustible materials can cause a very destructive fire; if you are unsure contact a licensed professional to assist you.

"Also, please think of your pets, limit their time outdoors, those little paws get cold quick!"