July 6, 2013

Kids playing with lighter started fatal fire

PLATTSBURGH — State Police say kids playing with a lighter started the Fourth of July fire that killed three older residents.

Walter Hotaling, 67, died in the early afternoon fire at 31 Homestead Drive in the Town of Plattsburgh, police have verified. The other two victims have been tentatively identified as Betty Waddy, 98, and Josephine Brusgul, 87.

The raging fire consumed the two-story wood frame home, owned by Christopher and Catherine Swiesz.


State Police said at a news conference Friday that three children under age 13 were playing with a grill-type lighter and accelerants in the attached garage of the home.

The garage caught fire, and flames quickly spread to the rest of the house.

“The intensity of the fire and heat from the fire made it impossible for firefighters to enter the residence,” said New York State Police Troop B Commander Major Richard Smith.

The children alerted people inside the home and were able to escape without injury, Smith said.

Two of the children lived at the home and the third lives in the neighborhood, said State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation Capt. Robert LaFountain. Their names weren’t released because of their ages.

Mr. Swiesz is an Emergency Department nurse at CVPH Medical Center in Plattsburgh, and he and Mrs. Swiesz cared for several older people in the certified adult family-type home. The Swieszes have three children. Ten people total were living at the home.


At the time the fire sparked, in addition to the three kids, eight people were inside the residence, LaFountain said.

All were able to escape, including Mrs. Swiesz and Samantha Swiesz, 15, who were rescued by neighbors.

“All of the individuals that made it out were out on the arrival of the Fire Department,” Clinton County Director of Emergency Services Eric Day said.

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