Fire destroys Albany home after clutter blocks firefighters

Posted at: 10/22/2013 6:15 PM
Updated at: 12/06/2013 3:34 PM
By: Dan Levy

Photo: Dan Levy / WNYT

ALBANY - A stubborn fire destroyed a two story home on First Street in Albany's Arbor Hill Neighborhood Tuesday night.  Even though the home had been reduced to a pile of rubble before midnight, authorities say it didn't have to destroyed, and easily could have been salvaged if not for the enormous amount of clutter that prevented firefighters from being able to do their jobs.

Bright flames and thick smoke were intense as firefighters arrived on the scene. The assault on 232 First Street came from the vacant lot west of the building, from the top of the ladder truck extension parked in the street, and from the adjacent rooftops. It was solely an exterior assault.

"We didn't know how it started or nothing, it just started and then, that's when a lot of the firemen came and we had to tell them they couldn't get in the door because there's so much stuff behind there," said one witness, La’Daysha Gayle.

"It was made difficult to gain entry to the building and we had to mount an exterior attack," said Fire Chief Daniel Coleman, “the fire apparently started in the rear. It would have been nice if we could have gotten in through the front and pushed it out the back."

Items were piled high not only behind the front door, but also throughout the house, as you could clearly see through the broken windowpanes.

"I know that she was like a hoarder but I didn't know it was this bad, like, I thought it was a little bit of stuff but it's really, really bad," said Gayle.

It's bad because it provides fuel for the fire, and firefighters couldn't do anything about. Another major concern was preventing the spread of the fire to the adjacent buildings just a few feet away to the east, especially with the prevailing wind coming from the west.

"We did want to make sure at all costs it did not extend into that structure," said Chief Coleman.

After a two-hour battle, those adjacent buildings were skillfully saved, but clearly, for what should have been a typical, single alarm urban fire assault, it turned out to be anything but typical.

According to fire officials, the fire began near the back porch, although it's not clear if it began inside or outside the residence. The lone occupant was not home at the time of the fire.