Investigation continues after remains located in Jay Street building after fire

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Tuesday, one set of human remains was located on the third floor of the Jay Street building destroyed by a fire last Friday, but on Wednesday investigators had to stop operations due to a compromised chimney.

Officials entered the building Tuesday morning through the building’s ground level and used a bucket hanging from a crane. Cadaver dogs also aided in the investigation. They looked for anyone who may still be unaccounted for. 

Schenectady Fire Chief Raymond Senecal confirmed Wednesday that only one set of human remains had been located. The remains were removed Tuesday afternoon and handed over to the medical examiner for identification, according to police. They are unsure of how long it will take to identify the remains. 

At least three residents of 104 Jay St. are said to be missing after a massive fire consumed two buildings. Family members of one of those unaccounted for said they were contacted by Schenectady police after the remains were located.

For loved ones of the missing, it’s been an agonizing waiting game. Some are still holding out hope.

Liz Debella said her friend Christine Urkin lived on the fifth floor, which collapsed during the fire. Like many of the residents of the building, Debella said her friend had fallen on hard times. Urkin is one of the several unaccounted for.

“None of us have heard from her, and there are many of us who are concerned, and that’s why I’m here today,” Debella said.

Joseph Dreyer was looking for his friend Harry Simpson. Dryer said Simpson was a Vietnam veteran who had been placed at the building by the Department of Social Services.

“He lived on the fourth floor so the hole — he lived right on the end,” Dreyer said. “I hope Harry’s not one of them. I hope he’s not one of them.”

Anthony Cortese lived in 104 Jay St. He escaped the fire and was also friends with Simpson.

“I had heard that some remains came out of the building, and I just, you know, I’m curious,” he said. “He’s in there. I don’t know how much is left of anything in there, but I know he didn’t get out. No way.”

Cortese took cell phone video of the fire after he made it outside.

“There was a couple that was up in the top window,” he recalled. “They were pleading for help because it was horrible. It was horrible. They were so desperate.”

Cortese said the fire alarms did not go off, and he couldn’t open the fire exit door. Instead, he got out of his window and went down the fire escape.

“The next apartment I get I’m going to make sure that there’s alarms that work and other stuff like that, and I definitely want a fire escape by my window,” he said.

The fire broke out at around 2 a.m. Friday, March 6. Police said at least 60 people were displaced and six hospitalized, including one person who jumped out of a fifth-story window. Officials said another resident was sent to the burn center in Westchester.

Firefighters battled the massive blaze for over ten hours. The fire chief said the cold weather was a challenge, and three of his men were injured. They were treated and released at Ellis Hospital.

For those who survived the fire, assistance can be found at the Department of Social Services located at 797 Broadway in Schenectady. DSS is open from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. The afterhours phone number is 518-382-0383.


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