Press-Republican

January 26, 2013

Firefighters combat Boatworks fire in bitter cold

KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

LAKE PLACID — Dozens of area firefighters fought a massive fire on Station Street here through frigid, dark morning hours.

Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish said a call came in about 12:37 a.m. reporting a blaze at Placid Boatworks at 263 Station St.

The fire consumed space used by four local business operations. Besides Placid Boatworks, Cake Placid, Griffith Oil and Rick’s Taxi were located in the structure, which sits across from the Lake Placid train depot.

MASSIVE RESPONSE

Jaquish said nine fire companies from around the North Country responded in the bitter cold to help Lake Placid firefighters. They came in from Saranac Lake, Wilmington, Jay, Upper Jay, Keene, Keene Valley, Paul Smiths-Gabriels, Bloomingdale and Elizabethtown, according to Assistant Fire Chief Tracy LaHart.

“About nine or 10 from each fire department,” LaHart estimated of the response, or close to 100 firefighters.

The large turnout helped keep a steady rotation. LaHart said they worked to keep firefighters safe by setting up teams that took turns dousing the flames.

Overnight air temperatures in Lake Placid dropped to 20 degrees below zero, and the challenges of fighting fire in dangerously cold air are enormous.

“We had one group out fighting fire while another warmed up in the fire station,” LaHart explained.

“At 20 below, everything freezes up. You also have to keep the equipment running. We had two salamanders under each truck to keep the pumps from freezing. There were four trucks here. And then there is ice all over the place.”

As water hits the ground in deep cold air, it freezes nearly on impact.

STARTED IN BOATWORKS

The fire started on the left side in the back of the building, LaHart said.

When the first firefighters arrived, flames were already leaping out the window.

They believe fire broke out in the Placid Boatworks section of the building.

“There was a lot of flammable material in there,” LaHart said, but initial investigation suggests that is not what started the fire.

Within minutes, flames broke through the roof of the rectangular building.

The structure is a total loss, Jaquish said, as daylight revealed a blackened steel frame coated in about six inches of white ice.

NO CAUSE YET

The building was listed as owned by Mill Pond Partners, which is owned by Joe Moore, the proprietor of Placid Boatworks.

Moore built Placid Boatworks as a startup in 2004 with former business partner Charlie Wilson, who retired in 2011. Wilson is former president of the American Canoe Association.

The canoes they built were hand-crafted with local materials and known for their lightweight design.

Moore told the Press-Republican there was a good amount of inventory lost in the fire.

“We had about 20 finished boats on storage racks in the back. And we build the molds for USA Luge. All of their molds were there. Those kinds of things, we’ll be able to do again. It’s just a tremendous amount of time. My guess is there’s nothing left in there of any value.”

Moore said the plan is to rebuild. The property is insured.

“We own the property there, and it’s an ideal spot for a boat shop. I foresee doing that.

“The fire departments were just phenomenal,” he added. “They do their jobs under the most adverse conditions you can imagine. We appreciate their trying to save the building.

“People have been really supportive, people offering to help, offering space. It’s really nice there are a lot of good people out there.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

“They’re still working on it,” Jaquish said late Friday. “It’s not a suspicious fire.”

State fire inspectors from the Office of Fire Prevention and Control came up from Albany.

Officer John Fairclough said they were called in about 4 a.m. and brought a canine unit with his dog, named Ashes, to help investigate the cause of the fire.

“We do know it started in the back in, we think, in the Boatworks,” Jaquish said.

TAXIS STILL RUNNING

Displaced businesses includes Rick’s Taxi service. But co-owner Carisa Fedorova said they remain in operation.

“We are open for business. People can call Rick’s for a taxi: 523-4741.”

One of the drivers who answered the phone said everyone calling had expressed concern and he thanked the community for the outpouring, saying they were executing a “little North Country resiliency.”

Fedorova said all of their taxi vehicles are safe. But their dispatch office shared a wall with the Boatworks.

“We’re ready to get in there and see if we can save anything,” she said.

“Currently we’re just in the process of keeping our options open. We’ll either relocate or rebuild with the owner of the Boatworks building, Joe (Moore). He’s a great guy.” 

‘EXCELLENT JOB’

By late morning, a spit of fire sputtered under one of the eves over the Boatworks door, and firefighter Todd Bissonette unrolled a hose and doused the hot spot.

Lake Placid Fire Chief Liane Colby said the response was supported by village electric, water and highway crews who helped secure the area for their work.

“It takes a village to fight a fire,” Colby said.

“The fire crews did an excellent job,” LaHart said, looking at the ice-coated structure.

The chiefs thanked all area firefighters who crawled out of warm homes in the early morning to come help without being paid and some missing a day’s work.

Fortunately, no firefighters were injured, despite the bitter cold.

“Anybody who comes out in this ...,” Liane said, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Email Kim Smith: kdedam@pressrepublican.com