WARRENSBURG - Oscar's Smoke House, one of the most famous enterprises in the North Country, suffered a devastating fire Friday evening.
The business, an Adirondack landmark for generations of residents and visitors alike, is considered a total loss.
The heat of the blaze was so intense it melted stainless steel doors and processing equipment and split the heavy steel and brick walls of the smokers on site.
The fire occurred at about 5:45 p.m. while the business was open and employees were busy helping customers, owner Jerry Quintal said Monday.
Within minutes, the fire raged out of control, he said, and the employees were evacuated from the store in uptown Warrensburg on Raymond Lane.
"I was in store's retail area waiting on customers when I smelled smoke, and sent my son-in-law Gabe Egloff to check it out," Quintal said, adding that Egloff discovered that a portion of the building next to an exterior woodpile was on fire. "Our alarms went off, three of our employees ran to the back of the building with fire extinguishers, the fire company arrived, and police told us we have to evacuate, while we were scrambling to get our business records out."
As of Monday, the cause of the fire was still under investigation.
Fire Chief Justin Hull said that the cause of the fire was the subject of a continuing investigation.
"We're not sure if it was an errant ember, or what," he said.
The blaze was difficult to fight because it went up into the eaves of the roof and quickly spread to adjoining areas of the sprawling building complex, he said.
A lack of water supply to town hydrants also hampered the firefighting effort, Hull said. Warrensburg firefighters established a 5-inch hose line to bring water down Third Ave. from Hudson to Main St. to the fire scene, he said.
Raymond Lane neighbor Joe Barlow called 911 to report the fire.
He said he had just sat down to dinner, and his wife Ellen glanced out the window and she remarked there was a lot more smoke coming from Oscar's than was normal in the meat-smoking process.
"I then looked at the smoke, saw flames coming out the roof and I grabbed the phone, called 911 and then went out to take photographs which I later gave to an investigator," Joe Barlow said.
Jerry's wife Kathy Quintal, said she was home at the time the blaze broke out.
"I went to open up some windows and there it was, smoke billowing out from under roof," she said. "We've had minor grease fires in the smokehouse before, but I could tell, with the amount of smoke, this was not the usual grease fire."
Within seconds, flames were shooting out of the roof and a thick plume of black smoke were then soon visible a considerable distance.
After the buildings were evacuated, firefighter Scott Combs went inside the business and brought out a painting of the enterprise's founder, Oscar Quintal - a painting that for two generations had hung over the cash register. Combs had also grabbed the checkbook on his way out, Jerry Quintal said.
About a half-hour later, the main structure had collapsed on itself, and several hundred people had already gathered to watch the fire and mourn the devastation of the enterprise.
Considerably more than 100 firefighters from Warrensburg Volunteer Fire Co. and 12 neighboring fire agencies -- as far away as Bay Ridge -- were on site soon afterwards to fight the blaze. They were able to keep the fire from damaging other nearby houses.
Involved in the blaze were firefighters from Warrensburg, Lake George, Chestertown, Bolton, Thurman, Horicon, Riverside and Queensbury.
Witness Dawn White saw the smoke billow skyward from her home on Lake Ave.
"It's really awful," she said. "Oscar's is like a staple in this community," she said. "I hate to see it like this."
Operated by the Quintal family for generations, Oscar's Smoke House has been a business that for decades has attracted visitors to Warrensburg.
The enterprise employs 14 local people including Quintal family members, and it ships gourmet smoked meats across the nation and internationally. It incorporated both a wholesale meat processing and packing operation with a retail enterprise that was a destination for people from both nearby and hundreds of miles away.
Oscar's Smoke House was established in 1943 by Oscar and Edith Quintal in the Music Hall block on Main Street, which burned down in 1945. The Quintals relocated to its present location in 1945.
The enterprise has been operated for decades by Jerry Quintal, Oscar and Edith's son. In recent years, Jerry's sons Joq and Joel have joined their father in operating the business.
Jonathan Alexander contributed to this report.