SCHENECTADY Summoned by her cousin, Priscilla Melendez arrived at the corner of Eastern Parkway and McClellan Street in time to see smoke billowing from her church building.
Melendez’ church, Iglesia Pentecostal Puerta de Bendicion, was on the first floor of 902 McClellan St. and had been for about a year, Melendez said. The congregation counted about 60 members.
“We are a small church and we put a lot of efforts and our money into whatever’s in there,” Melendez said from across Eastern Parkway as firefighters continued battling the blaze Friday afternoon. “It’s going to be really hard starting all from the beginning.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” she added later. “Heartbreaking.”
No injuries were reported, but the fire was being treated as suspicious, police spokesman Sgt. Luciano Savoia said. At least one woman was believed to have been in the building. Police were speaking with her later Friday afternoon.
Heavily damaged in the fire was 902 McClellan St., a three-story combination of church and apartments. A neighboring building at 908 McClellan St. was also damaged as flames licked across a 6-foot gap between the structures. It was unclear how many apartments were damaged and how many of them were occupied. The second structure sustained damage to the attic before firefighters could douse the blaze.
Firefighters were called at about 1:15 p.m. for multiple reports of fire and smoke coming from the second floor at the rear of the building, officials said. They arrived to find flames coming from the building. Firefighters fought the neighboring blaze from the inside and were able to put it out.
On the main structure, firefighters used a ladder hose to pour water into the building. They worked to douse hot spots into the afternoon. The fire was under control by 3:15 p.m. and all out by 4:45, deputy fire chief Kurt Gurfin said.
Icy and cold
Hampering efforts were temperatures in the 20s, assistant Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said. Frozen ground combined with mist from the hoses was “making this place like a skating rink.”
Della Rocco spoke to a reporter briefly while en route to the Mayflower Laundromat across Eastern Parkway from the fire scene. He went there to ask owner David Ruzzo if firefighters could use his site to warm up. Ruzzo quickly agreed.
Ruzzo was on the scene early. He had just gone home to pick up some items and everything was fine. He returned to see a column of smoke billowing from the area. He altered his route back to the laundromat.
“As I came this way, you could just see flames pouring out of the other side of the building, even hitting the house next to it,” Ruzzo recalled. “Flames were just shooting out of this side, it was unbelievable.”
Ruzzo took a video of part of the early firefighting efforts, playing it for a CBS6 cameraman.
At least one resident of the building took refuge in the laundromat early on, Ruzzo recalled. He could hear the person on his phone saying his apartment was going up in flames.
Eastern Parkway and McClellan Street at the fire scene were closed as firefighters battled the blaze. The intersection itself is notable for two pharmacies and a gas station on the three other corners.
Crews from Niskayuna, Scotia and Carman fire departments assisted Schenectady.
Yevette Harrison was at the laundromat doing her laundry when the fire broke out. She first realized what was happening when Ruzzo came in with the news.
“Flames were just shooting out,” Harrison said. “I’ve never been in a fire, but I can’t imagine.”