Park Street house consumed by fire; seven escape with their lives

by Dan McClelland
A single-family house at 16 Park Street was completely destroyed in a dramatic fire early Wednesday.  A local couple and their five children barely escaped with their lives.
When volunteer firefighters arrived on the scene shortly after 1:35a.m. they found a structure fully engulfed in flames.
“Fire was jumping out of three sides,” Fire Chief Carl Steffen said after the massive conflagration last week.
“There was a big exposure on the left side,” which was only the distance of a driveway away from a neighboring house.  “That had to be protected” to prevent the blaze from taking a second structure.
Dorie Jensen, her boy friend Chad Garvey and their five children all escaped safely.  The chief said two of the children sustained burns to their feet as they were escaping the house across an extremely hot floor.
Their injuries were both treated at the scene by volunteers from the Tupper Lake Rescue and Ambulance Squad.
The fire apparently started in the basement and quickly ran up the walls easily to the attic area as the old house was of “balloon construction,” where there are no stops between floors, the chief reported.
“We have no cause of the fire to report...we'll never know the cause,” he said of the massive destruction that occurred.
Over the years the house had apparently been remodeled several times so there were layers and layers of wall and ceiling coverings which makes it very difficult for firefighters to get at the flames hiding between layers.
“It was a virtual nightmare” for our volunteers, the chief said of the difficulties they faced battling the huge blaze.
“The entire place was blanketed in thick smoke,” which rolled out as far as Park St. and Wawbeek Ave.
“That made it very difficult for us to see what was going on to plan our attack of the fire!” he explained.
One of the first orders of business for the volunteers was the containment of two large propane tanks “which were effected by the fire and which had to be cooled down and protected before we had a bigger problem.”
With all the difficulties presented the intense fire, the volunteers weren't able to enter the building to fight it from inside.
“It was very unsafe and the risk was too great for our people to send anyone inside,” the chief noted. “It was just far too involved.”
At times during the battle firemen had to knock down sections of the building to get at the fire.
When the firefighters arrived half of the second floor was already gone and it collapsed onto the first floor shortly after that.
“That prevented us from getting into the basement where the fire began,” said the chief.
Much of the department's emphasis was on containing the blaze and preventing it from spreading next door.
At one point an excavator was brought in to knock downwalls left standing.
All of the department's truck were put into use that night, including the ladder truck and its platform rig, which hung at times over the house and from where water rained down on the blaze.
Our local volunteers were joined on the scene by firefighters from Piercefield, Saranac Lake and Paul Smith's.
“Piercefield brought a pumper for standby at our station,” Mr. Steffen noted.  Long Lake volunteers were posted at the station on Santa Clara as back-up, in the event there was another call that evening.
Firefighters were on the Park Street scene for eight hours until about 9:30a.m.  They returned briefly in the afternoon when the fire rekindled briefly.
The local department, according to Chief Steffen, was back in service at about 11a.m.
The Paul Smith's and Saranac Lake departments, which were both very heavily involved in the fight, were the fire departments the chief sent home first and Long Lake stood by that morning until the Tupper Lake trucks were cleaned and returned to service.There were over 30 Tupper Lake men and women at the fire, with more helping in one way or the other at the fire hall.  Out of the approximately 50 volunteers in the Tupper department, over 80% of them were involved that night and the following day.
The fire left nothing of value but burned debris and the charred remnants of one local family's home.
The Red Cross organization has launched a drive to help clothe the seven family members and provide basis household materials. See related story this week.

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