Site of deadly Saugerties house fire demolished

(Photo by Christina Coulter)

The charred remains of 18-20 Russell Street have been further reduced to a pile of blackened debris after demolition began last week. On April 21 of last year, a fire, the cause of which remains a mystery, took the life of Tanya Conklin, 46, mother of six.

“That was the last place I called home with my mom,” said Brittany Conklin, Tanya’s 22-year-old daughter who managed to escape the burning building. “Burnt, then demolished. Some days, I would just go there and imagine it being normal. [My mom had the best laugh]. But it’s gone. It’s also the one place that makes me know for sure that my mom is no longer coming back. It reassures me that that night wasn’t just a nightmare. But instead it was my life.”

Tanya, who lived in Apt. 2 with her family, was found dead in a rear bedroom. Four others were seriously injured. Also living with her were Brittany, 21-year-old Malikye Stokes — Brittany’s fiancé — 17-year-old Samantha Widener and 9-year-old Desiree Widener. A 17-year-old female friend of the family, Amber Engwiller of Mount Marion, was also staying over in the apartment at the time of the fire. The fire, town police said, started in Apt. 1, which was occupied by 37-year-old Nawabzada A. Khan, his wife Monna Khan, and their three children — a 10-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy.

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The demolition work is being paid for in full by the landlord of the property, Giuseppe Sireci, according to Village Code Enforcement Officer Eyal Saad. Legal action, he said, is still being pursued by the affected Conklin and Khan families against the Village of Saugerties, Sireci and his son, Peter.

“Our attorneys are taking care of all of the stuff and they ask us questions not getting us too involved in it. I’m assuming I might have to go testify or whatever, I don’t know,” said Saad. “It’s still emotions, stuff is still happening, even though the building is down, stuff is going on. I do believe that the state should look into the findings and find out what happened over there — I was not privy to any of those reports. I was told that I would have to FOIL request the fire investigation from the state even though I already have jurisdiction.

“I hope it wasn’t that the smoke detectors didn’t work and I hope it’s not something that had to do with building code or not. Usually building code is the owner’s responsibility — the person who lives there, who is responsible for maintaining this stuff. I do an inspection every three years and three years is a long time.”

Rich Rothe of Rothe Engineering, the company commissioned to carry out the demolition, said that the pile of rubble should be transported “to a landfill in Western New York” by the end of next week. 

“It was a relief when I knocked it down,” said Rothe. “It was so darn close to the other buildings that it was a little bit scary.”

He said that the approximate cost of the demolition and removal come out to $30,000 — about half of that cost is the price of asbestos removal. The last step is disconnecting the property from the water main. After eleven months of looming over Russell St., Rothe said that it took an hour and twenty minutes to knock the entire building down.

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