Cause of massive Watervliet warehouse fire still under investigation

WATERVLIET, N.Y. (NEWS10) – State fire officials are investigating the cause of a massive 3-alarm fire at a warehouse on Broadway in Watervliet Saturday night.

Crews finished the process of demolishing the warehouse on Broadway Sunday evening. All that remains is a pile of bricks, which will be recycled.

Watervliet Fire Chief Rob Conlen says it took six fire departments nearly 10 hours to put out the fire, calling it the largest fire he has seen in the City in the last 20 years.

William McGovern, Deputy Chief of the Investigations Unit for the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control says investigators are confident the fire started on the first floor in the center of the structure.

When firefighters arrived at the scene after 8 p.m. Saturday night, the entire building was in flames.

Over the course of the blaze, several parts of the building collapsed.

The warehouse, which used to house a boat factory, was large, about 200 feet long, 100 feet wide and two stories tall.

Fire officials say no one was inside the building at the time, but one firefighter was hurt with minor injuries.

Chief Conlen says the fire burned down a utility pole, leaving a dozen in the neighborhood without power, but power has since been restored.

Officials say the warehouse had to be demolished because the extensive damage to the building would have made it a danger to the public. Parts of the walls were falling down on various sides of the building Sunday afternoon.

A structural engineer was brought in to do a survey of the building and deemed that it needed to come down.

The Watervliet City Manager says that ultimately, the owner of the building will be responsible for taking the demolition.

People living in the area of say the destruction of the historic building in their neighborhood is a major loss.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how sad it is for this community to lose this business and to lose these people,” said Glen Ward, who lives a few doors down from the warehouse.

As Ward watched crews demolish the warehouse, she remembered seeing the people who worked there every morning.

“Now all I see is people unemployed, a business not in existence anymore,” she says.

Officials say the structure was primarily used for storage related to three businesses, and that there were reports that the building contained several different types of containers.

McGovern says gas canisters and aerosol cans inside the warehouse likely explained the explosions witnesses at the scene reported hearing.

“LP gas canisters, oxyacetylene torch tanks, just regular aerosol cans. Those items would likely present with what the residents would report as explosions,” said McGovern.

Those explosions scared many of the people who had to leave their homes around the warehouse.

“My wife was all hysterical. My grandkids were all crying,” said Ausberto Bones, a neighbor.

Some nearby homes were even damaged from the heat, their siding peeling off.

Fire 6

Kristina Blair, who lives behind the warehouse, says she thought she was going to lose everything.

McGovern also said a combination of building construction and fuel packages present inside contributed to the size and speed of the fire.

The warehouse was a large, open building, which allowed the fire to travel unimpeded very rapidly.

Chief Conlen says the investigation is still ongoing, and due to the damage of the building, investigators weren’t able to get inside.

He says they’re unable to rule out accidental causes or arson, but says they have not received any leads that make them think there was any criminal activity involved.

He says due to the size of the building, it’s likely the cause of the fire will be undetermined.

For now, the community will take each day at a time to process such an unexpected event.

“Who does expect it, you know? What are you gonna do?” says Colleen Ray who lives behind the warehouse. “It’s part of life you know. It’s just sad that it had to happen.”
“It’s just really, really a sad day for us in Watervliet, it really is,” says Glen Ward.

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