Press-Republican

May 25, 2012

One critical after St. Regis Falls fire

MIRANDA ORSO
Press-Republican

---- — One person suffered critical injuries in a massive fire here that completely destroyed a century-old four-apartment building early Friday.

St. Regis Falls Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wilbur Bailey wasn’t sure how many people lived at 16 North Main Street, but estimated between 10 and 15. He thought they were all there when the blaze broke out.

Adam Cox, second-assistant chief, arrived first, finding the building in flames and a man hanging by his hands from a second-story window.

He saw a ladder nearby and rushed to put it in place, so the man could climb safely down.

“If (Cox) hadn’t been there, he would have died,” Bailey said.

Trucks and firefighters arrived within minutes to see heavy smoke and flames billowing from the 5,100 square foot building.

The crew quickly helped other occupants escape, and also rescued a dog and a cat.

Three people were taken to Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, one of whom was transferred to Fletcher Allen Health Center in Burlington.

As of Friday afternoon, he was listed in critical condition, Bailey said.

“People are lucky to have made it out of there.”

Names weren’t available, he said.

Also, a firefighter whose hands were burned was taken to Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, where he was treated and released.

Another cat and dog didn’t survive the blaze.



AERIAL ATTACK VITAL

Three aerial trucks responded from Malone Callfiremen, Saranac Lake and Brasher-Winthrop volunteer fire departments. They played an extremely important role in keeping the fire contained, Bailey said, as other firefighters worked to run four lines from the river.

“Considering the size of the structure, and until the lines and water were available, the aerials were instrumental in getting the fire out,” he added.

About 100 firefighters from 23 departments, along with the St. Lawrence and Franklin County offices of emergency services, Franklin County Fire Police and Franklin County Rehab Team, worked to get the conflagration under control.

It took about 2 million gallons of water to fight the blaze; the flames were out by 7 a.m., Bailey said.



‘COMPLETELY ENGULFED’

Thomas Mierzwa, who lives a quarter of a mile way on Main Street, checked out the fire shortly after hearing the call on a police scanner.

“It was completely engulfed in flames when I arrived,” he said in a phone interview. He runs a power plant on the St. Regis River, and said he assisted Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation in cutting power to the town, while firefighters worked diligently to get the blaze under control.

“As of 3 a.m. when I went to bed, there was still no power,” Mierzwa added.

Bailey said the electricity had to be shut down because of the structure’s proximity to the main power grid for the town and other safety issues. It was restored later in the morning.

Some tenants thought the fire was sparked by an explosion at the back of the building, near a hot-dog cart with a propane tank and adjacent fuel storage tank, Mierzwa said.

But Bailey heard nothing about an explosion.

“All signs are pointing to an electrical fire,” he said. “But nothing is officially determined, and it’s still under investigation.  Nothing exploded.”

The New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, Franklin County Emergency Services and the Franklin County Cause & Origin Team are in charge of the investigation.

“The cause does not appear to be suspicious in nature at this time,” said a release from the Fire Department.



‘JUST A HUGE LOSS’

The building, which housed a drugstore and a hardware store at different times in its long history, was demolished Friday afternoon after assessment by numerous agencies.

The Franklin County Treasurer’s Office lists Nathan Goodwin as the primary owner of the property.

Bailey was saddened to see the landmark go but, he said, “it was deemed a safety issue and a hazard so it had to come down.”

He was amazed at how quickly everyone involved responded and thanked them for their incredible hard work.

“As the rescue efforts are concerned, it was totally unbelievable,” he added. “But it’s just a huge loss.”

The American Red Cross was on hand to assist residents, who lost all of their belongings in the blaze.