ROUSES POINT — It took no more than 5 minutes for the first firefighters to get to the garage fire at 57 Church St. here on Thursday night.
And that's something to really be grateful for, Village Code Enforcement Officer Clifford Sterling said.
"Had they not, it could have been catastrophic."
'JUST A SHELL'
Face value, it was bad enough.
Flames raced from the attached garage into the attic of the home, wreaking havoc there and damaging the kitchen and livingroom, Rouses Point Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Mike LeBlanc said.
More destruction resulted from smoke and water, he said.
"The whole back is gone," Sterling said of the home. "It's just a shell sitting there."
He's sure it can't be salvaged.
That's a particular agony for him because his brother, Jeffrey and wife, Roxanne, lived there.
But the flames had other targets in mind as well, as two pine trees behind the garage — maybe 40 feet tall — caught fire and sprayed sparks on the neighboring buildings.
The initial goal, LeBlanc said, was to protect the Sterlings' home, as well as all the exposures around it.
"We had a good turnout," he said, "a lot of help from mutual aid."
And it was needed.
Fire blew against the house at 59 Church St., next door, where Molly Ryan and Eric Gadway live.
"The shutters melted off the house," LeBlanc said.
The heat cracked windows, even melted blinds hanging inside the home.
A small storage building on the property went up in flames.
But the fire crews saved the house.
And the flames leaped to the backyard of a property behind the Sterlings' home, attacking a fence and destroying a 10-by16-foot storage shed, Clifford said.
But that house, though its back deck got scorched, remains standing, too.
Jeffrey had spotted the fire himself; he and Roxanne were both home when garage went up at about 9 p.m.
It started at the back of the garage, Clifford said.
Friday afternoon, as his brother boarded up the residence to protect what belongings could be salvaged, the cause had not yet been determined.
Jeffrey and Roxanne, who received some assistance from the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross, were already regrouping.
They had stayed with Jeffrey's father, Bob Sterling, on what was left of Thursday night and were bringing a camper to their Church Street property so they can stay there, Clifford said.
Providing mutual aid on Thursday night were departments from Champlain, Mooers, Chazy, Alburgh, Vt., and Lacolle, Quebec.
The fire company from St. Paul, Quebec, stood by at Rouses Point's station; the tired firefighters called it quits just before 2 a.m.
The conflagration drew a crowd of onlookers, LeBlanc said — the flames lit up the sky, visible from much of the village.
The Sterling brothers' dad was among them, all three remembering another blaze, on Jan. 2, 1980, at that very same house.
"It instantly took me back," said Clifford, who was a teenager then growing up in the family home. "We were all sleeping — woken up and told to get out.
"We lost everything."
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