Sally Wallace consoles Kent Duell as he surveys the damage caused by a fire Aug. 22 that destroyed three buildings and their contents in a River St. complex he and his wife Glenda own.
A fast-moving fire Monday morning in a historic area of River Street consumed three structures and damaged four others, and the co-owner of the destroyed, uninsured buildings said she suspected arson was the cause for the blaze which caused a loss of $300,000 or more.
The blaze was called in just before 7 a.m. Aug. 22, according to Warrensburg 2nd Assistant Chief Alan Hall Jr., who was the first on the scene.
He said that when he arrived, flames were shooting out if the historic three-story Emerson railroad coal bin beside Mill Avenue.
“The coal bin structure was totally involved,” he said. “It was a very fast-moving fire producing intense heat.”
Two nearby structures, one housing Glendale Antiques and another used solely for storage, were also in flames. All three buildings are owned by Glenda and Kent Duell of Thurman.
Hall and other Warrensburg firefighters arriving soon afterwards immediately got to work attempting to save nearby buildings, he said.
The fire had erupted in the metal-sided R&D Transmission building about 30 feet away, but firefighters and the transmission repair employees put out the blaze before it could ignite explosive pressurized gases used for welding as well as petroleum substances.
The heat from the blaze destroyed seven vehicles, two boats and a camper-trailer, Hall said. Most if not all were owned by the Duells, and several of them were not insured for casualty loss.
The fire’s heat also shattered windows in the River Street Plaza building and CWI building across Mill St, both of which suffered substantial damage to their siding.
Glenda Duell, on her way back from a trip to Virginia, said via cell phone that she and her husband Kent, her son Karl Jr. and other relatives had suffered substantial losses because the destroyed buildings had been used to store personal belongings of family members.
“My son Karl lost everything,” she said, noting that his possessions, tools, and his workshop at the site were destroyed. Due to the blaze, Kent Duell lost all his construction equipment, tools, and a substantial amount of building materials, as well as several vehicles.
The coal bin, the Glendale Antiques building and the adjacent storage shed were full of household goods, furniture, personal items, tools, equipment and antiques, she said.
“There was tons of stuff stored there,” she said.
Several of the vehicles, including a vintage 1972 Triumph, and two boats were as far as 40 feet away from the raging fire — and apparently they burst into flames due to the intense heat.
The carriage-house apartment building closer to River St. that the Duells also own endured substantial damage.
The building housed the Duells’ son Karl Jr., his new wife Karen, and their two-month old baby. They were at home at the time of the fire, Glenda Duell said.
The fire’s intense heat shattered their bedroom window and kitchen window, and the mini-blinds in the windows behind the glass were melted.
Glenda Duell said Karl became aware of the fire, ran out to move several of the vehicles, but was repelled by the intense heat. His truck and car were destroyed in the fire.
Firefighters from Bolton, Chester were on the scene with fire engines, and Lake George firefighters attacked the blaze from their tower truck. Also responding were firefighters from Thurman, North Queensbury, and Queensbury Central. Hadley-Luzerne firefighters were on alert. A total of 75 firefighters were on the scene, about 20 of them from Warrensburg, Hall estimated.
The firefighters collaborated to crate a curtain of water on several sides of the burning structures, Hall said, to contain the damage due to the inferno.
Duell said that about six weeks ago, an unknown vandal started a fire in the coal bin, and that it smoldered for days, but was extinguished, and she blamed the most recent blaze on arson.
Hall, however said that investigators determined the fire may have been caused by a cigarette discarded by someone let into one of the buildings to inspect antiques.
The Aug. 22 blaze charred a nearby power pole, melted utility lines, cutting off power to about 10 customers, National Grid employees on the scene said.
At noon Aug. 22, Warren County Public Works employees were poised to push down the charred remains of the coal bin building so they wouldn’t fall into Mill St.
While smoke was still emerging from the remains of the coal bin building, Hall said that the damage was substantial, and that state and county fire Cause & Origin team members were on the scene investigating the blaze.
“This is the biggest structure fire we’ve had here in quite some time,” he said.
At about 6:45 p.m., Kent and Glenda Duell arrived on site to see the damage. Dozens of their friends offered condolences as Kent and Glenda gazed at the charred wreckage.
“This looks like Ground Zero,” Kent Duell said with a steely gaze. “This is unreal.”
“At least everyone’s alive, and that’s all that really matters,” Glenda Duell replied.