Press-Republican

April 23, 2013

Fire badly damages former Saxony hotel

By SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican

---- — ROUSES POINT — Marc Chapman and his family escaped safely as a fire ravaged the elevator shaft in the former Saxony hotel and ate into the attic early Monday.

“There’s nothing left on the fourth floor,” Rouses Point Volunteer Fire Department First Assistant Chief Walter Laramie said.

That’s where the Chapmans made their home and where Mr. Chapman had a recording studio for many years.

He had been in the midst of renovating part of the first floor into apartments.

NO INTERNAL ATTACK

Flames shot into the dark sky from the elevator shaft as firefighters arrived at the four-story structure at the intersection of Lake and Champlain streets at about 2:45 a.m.

“Before we could get water on it, the fire moved into the attic,” Laramie said.

It wasn’t safe to launch an internal attack from the fourth floor, he said.

“We kept (crews) out of harm’s way — I just didn’t trust the building.

“(We were) putting (so) much water on it, in the dark, it was just plain too tricky.”

So firefighters concentrated on the elevator shaft, forced to wait until the flames ate through the roof.

“(It was) very smoky, very dark,” said Kimberly Lapan, treasurer of the Rouses Point Fire Department Auxiliary, moving a box of bottled water in the back of an SUV at about 7:45 a.m.

The vehicle was parked outside the Stewart’s Shop across from the smoldering building.

She and her mother, Sally Smith, had arrived with refreshments shortly after the initial attack.

Help poured in from fire departments around the region including Chazy, Champlain, Mooers, Beekmantown and Plattsburgh District 3; Alburgh and Isle Va Motte, Vt.; and, from Quebec, Hemmingford, LaColle, St. Paul and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.

“A lot of help,” Laramie said.

LONG FIGHT

At about 8:45 a.m., firefighters atop a 95-foot-or-so ladder extended from a District 3 aerial truck deluged the elevator shaft with a steady cascade of water.

Flames had just eaten through the cream-colored siding in a small burst of vibrant orange; the fire was by no means completely quenched, Laramie said.

“We’ll probably still be here at suppertime.”

Until about 11:40 a.m., roads were shut down from all directions, including on Route 9B at the Mason Road intersection in Coopersville, Route 11 from Mason Road/Route 276 and at points in the Village of Rouses Point.

CAUSE UNKNOWN

The fire might have sparked in the elevator shaft, he said, since that’s where the first flames had seemed to erupt.

But Laramie said investigation was needed to pinpoint the cause.

“It’s unknown but not suspicious,” he said.

As Laramie studied the building, sheets of water blew toward Stewart’s, and a mist filtered across Champlain Street, wetting the chief and other firefighters.

A few onlookers watched from the side of the shop; inside, business was minimal due to the road closures.

HOME EVACUATED

At the height of the attack, Laramie had four pumpers sucking up water from nearby Lake Champlain to fuel the snarl of hoses in the street; three continued that work as the morning moved on.

“I tried not to use the village water supply (more than necessary),” he said.

He didn’t know just how much water had been dumped on the burning building, but village workers had to pump out three or four basements to the south of the Saxony that caught runoff from the fire.

The home just south of the Saxony was evacuated, as Chazy Fire Chief Mike Cahoon, working that side, considered the possibility that the burning building could collapse and fall in that direction.

“We were lucky (the fire) started in the top,” Laramie said. “If it had started (lower), there wouldn’t be anything left.”

‘TREMENDOUS JOB’

He didn’t speculate on whether the fire had totaled the structure.

The third level suffered extensive damage, he said, with smoke and water issues on the second floor and below.

No one was hurt fighting the fire, Laramie said.

“They’ve done a tremendous job,” Auxiliary Vice President Smith said, watching water spray from the aerial ladder high above the gutted roof. “I never thought they’d save it this much.

“We were just praying the wind would stay down.”

FRIGID FIRE

The original Saxony was a glamorous hotel in the 1800s; in the 1970s, it was a popular bar where live bands performed.

“I remember when the first part burned,” Laramie said.

He was a volunteer with the Chazy Fire Department then, and in Monday’s sunshine, he remembered the frigid temperatures of that January day in 1984.

Laramie had drilled into the ice behind the Log Cabin Motel, just across the street, to get access to water. But 18 inches down, he hit sand.

That’s how thick the ice was, he said.

“Had to go out 40 or so feet to get water,” he said. “That was a cold, cold fire.”

The wood-frame addition that burned Monday was built sometime between 1860 and 1880, Laramie said Mr. Chapman had told him.

One corner near the top still had scorch marks from the blaze that took down the main structure, he said.

The Chapmans were assisted by the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross on Monday morning and were staying with relatives.

Mr. Chapman could not be reached Monday evening.

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com