MOIRA — James Blauvelt stood in front of the smoldering remains of his home at 11 Russell Road, hands in pockets, looking at the charred rubble.
“It was built in the 1890s. Old (expletive) houses like this go up fast,” he said, spitting a dark patch of tobacco onto the icy ground.
“I was on my way into town and was almost there when I got a call that the place was on fire. It happened while I gone.
“I’d been gone maybe 10 or 15 minutes,” Blauvelt said, punctuating the words with another spat of chew.
Firefighters from seven departments were called out at 9:29 a.m., “but it was fully engulfed by the time we arrived,” said Moira Fire Chief Tim Trimm, who was the incident commander.
The house was situated near the intersection with Wangum Road.
Mutual aid came from firefighters in Brushton, Bangor, Bombay, Dickinson, St. Regis Falls as well as Lawrenceville in St. Lawrence County. Paul Smiths-Gabriels was on standby.
Trimm said the fire in Moira is under investigation by the Franklin County Cause and Origin Team, but it likely got its start in the cellar, which caught the rear of the two-story, wood-frame building first.
Heavy smoke could be seen from as far away as Bangor and Malone.
ICE, PROPANE DANGERS
Volunteers at the fire site were nervous, at first, because of the coating of ice on everything, including the snow-covered ground they needed to walk on to reach a pair of propane tanks that were dangerously close to the approaching fire.
Trimm said he had to kick at the ice with the heel of his boot to get a foothold and that other firefighters were doing the same so they could control the water hoses and put the fire down.
The balloon construction of the house and the tin roof were challenges.
So was working in the tight quarters between tall, frozen snowbanks to maneuver the large apparatus.
There were also equipment failures and the problem of fire-truck fixtures freezing up in the 20-degree weather.
But there was very little breeze, so a nearby barn in which Blauvelt stows equipment for his welding business was not in danger.
Blauvelt said he moved to the area from southern New York and has lived in the home about a year with his girlfriend and son, who weren’t home when the fire broke out, either.
He doesn’t have any other relatives in the area, but the North Country chapter of the American Red Cross did provide the family with food, clothing and shoes.
Blauvelt said he does have insurance coverage, but he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next.
“I lost everything,” he said, sending another spray of juice onto the frozen pavement. “I bought this place for a change of scenery.”
The Moira blaze was the second fire in the North Country on Thursday.
A passerby called in a fire just before 7 a.m. at 616 River Road in Peru, according to Clinton County Dispatch.
The fire at a small barn was put down by the Peru, Keeseville, South Plattsburgh, AuSable Forks and Morrisonville fire departments.
— Staff Writer Robin Caudell contributed to this report.