A fire in the City of Plattsburgh on Tuesday morning destroyed an apartment at 157-159 Oak St. City firefighters and police arrived to see the northwest corner of the two-story building engulfed in flames and heavy smoke.

Flames broke out in a local historian's apartment Tuesday morning, severely damaging 200-year-old books and other research material.

The fire at the two apartments at 157-159 Oak St. ousted retired Plattsburgh State professor Merton Stancliff and a group of younger occupants on the second floor.

No one was injured.

The call came in about 8:40 a.m., and the City Fire Department had platoons at the site within minutes.

City Police Patrolman John Drumm was one of the first responders to arrive, and he found the downstairs, northwest corner of the two-story building engulfed in flames.


Stancliff went to the upstairs apartment for help after the fire started.

One of the tenants, Elliot Mousseau, was getting ready for work when Stancliff banged on the door and said he couldn't get his fire extinguisher to work.

"I thought I smelled something weird," Mousseau said. "I heard the smoke alarm, and then I opened my office door and saw smoke everywhere."

Mousseau woke his girlfriend, Sharon Murphy, and the other inhabitants of the apartment, Audra Green and Stewart Strader.

"We went outside and saw the smoke," Green said. "(Stancliff) was outside in his boxer shorts. I gave him a coat and then called 911."


Mousseau returned to his apartment to rescue their cats and dogs, then headed to Stancliff's place to see what he could do.

"I ran down and grabbed my fire extinguisher, thinking I could put it out," but the smoke was too heavy for him to see.

Once out of the building, Mousseau realized one of the cats was missing, so he ran back in to find it, followed by Murphy.

It was looking like they would have to leave the cat behind because the smoke was too unbearable when Murphy suddenly found the feline hiding under the couch.

"We're fine, and our animals are fine," Mousseau said. "All in all, we've got a lot to be thankful for."

Mousseau's mother, Athena Angelos, lives next door, so they sought shelter in her apartment.


Mousseau said they moved to the apartment a few months ago, but Stancliff has been there since 1989.

Stancliff, a retired anthropology professor, is a local history buff.

"His apartment is wall-to-wall history books; some of these books that he has are 200 years old," Mousseau said.

By the time Stancliff awoke, his study was already in flames, he told Mousseau.

Assistant Fire Chief Randy Stone said Stancliff's apartment was filled with reference materials.

Mousseau said that when they moved in, Stancliff told them to be very aware about fire safety because of all of the historical memorabilia in his apartment.

"That's his whole life," Mousseau said.


Police escorted Stancliff to the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross, and he will be staying with a friend on Oak Street for the time being.

Mousseau said he and his co-tenants are likely to seek Red Cross help but will have to go back to the apartment first to assess the damage and see what they lost.

He said he wanted Stancliff to be served first, and if there was money left over, then they would take the help.

Mousseau had no apartment insurance but said the owner of the building, Suzanne Shair, has landlord's insurance.

Plattsburgh City Police Chief Desmond Racicot, who is acting fire chief, said the fire caused extensive damage to the two-family home, but the response from the Fire Department was quick.

Stone said about 22 firefighters responded to the fire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but he said it looked like books and materials were near a heater.

"Typically this time of year, there tends to be a higher risk of fire," said Racicot, who took the opportunity to remind residents to be vigilant about holiday fire safety.

Email Kelli Catana at: kcatana@pressrepublican.com

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