He’s a former postman, a Blue Kat, a vet, but now Art Russell is a man without a home.
Russell’s home at 20 Second St., a home that saw four generations grow up, was devastated by fire, smoke and water, and left uninhabitable by a Feb. 19 blaze.
Rachael Sweeny, who lives in an apartment next door, was there when it happened. “I thought I smelled smoke, so I texted my neighbor, Jennifer Perkey.”
“I looked outside and I saw an orange glow from the fire coming from the basement,” Perkey said. “Then there were flames coming from the basement.”
Perkey called 911 and units of the Saugerties Fire Department were on the way. The village companies as well as town companies of Centerville-Cedar Grove, Mt. Marion, Glasco, Malden-West Camp, Saxton and Ulster Hose, as well as Diaz Ambulance, all responded.
“After searches revealed no victims, and the bulk of the fire was knocked down, crews focused on beginning a lengthy overhaul as fire had traveled to every floor of the home through an interior staircase and void spaces,” said village Fire Chief Dave Mason. “Despite single-digit temperatures, very little freezing problems were encountered with the exception of icy roads and sidewalks.”
Russell was not home when the fire started and there were no firefighters injured despite having to battle one of the most difficult types of fires to fight — a basement fire.
Neighbors said Russell would burn wood in his basement to heat his home, and Eyal Saad, the village code enforcement officer, said it appeared the fire began in an aging wood boiler in the basement.
There are a number of factors that make a basement fire so difficult to fight. A basement is a confined space with nowhere for the smoke, flames and heat to go. There’s usually only one way out for the firefighters should something go wrong.
In a fire in an upper story, firefighters will vent (break open a window, or cut a hole in the roof) to release the smoke and heat and give firefighters a chance to see what they’re doing. But in a smoky basement, visibility is next to zero, and the heat can be intense.
Smoke from the basement blaze forced firefighters to retreat several times before they were able to hammer it with enough water to knock it down. But the fire moved too fast, spreading up the inside of the walls, through air pockets and voids and up a stairway through the first and second floors and into the attic.
It took firefighters about half an hour of hard work to get the fire in the basement and in the upper stories under control, but by that time, the home’s interior was destroyed.
Saad said the amount of damage forced him to declare the structure uninhabitable.
Members of American Legion Post 72 will be collecting funds to help their fellow vet, who is now staying with his sister, as will the Blue Kats. Anyone who would like to help Russell out can get hold of the American Legion Post 72 on John St. by calling 246-6769 or see a member of the Blue Kats Men’s Club.