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Update: Cause of State Street fire still being investigated

Second fire erupts on Strong Street

December 28, 2012
Updated 9:37 a.m.
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Schenectady firefighters battle a blaze Thursday night in a vacant building at 237-247 State St.
Schenectady firefighters battle a blaze Thursday night in a vacant building at 237-247 State St.

— The cause of a Thursday evening fire at a prominent State Street building remained under investigation this morning, fire officials said.

There was nothing as of this morning to suggest any suspicious cause, Deputy Fire Chief Michael Gillespie said. He noted, though, that the investigation is still in its early stages.

Firefighters were called to the former Patton & Hall Building at 237-247 State St. at around 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

The fire was contained to the third and fourth floors of the State Street building, with water damage throughout. The Mr. James Hairstylist building sustained some minor water damage and damaged front door that was later boarded up for the night.

Two firefighters also suffered what were described as minor injuries fighting the blaze, Gillespie said. Another firefighter also suffered a minor injury fighting a fire a vacant house on Strong Street later Thursday evening, Gillespie said.

State Street from Erie Boulevard to South Ferry Street remained closed this morning for safety reasons, Gillespie said. He had no timeline for reopening the stretch.

The State Street building was largely vacant, Gillespie said. Officials believe there was a property manager who may or may not have been spending time there.

Two others were probably living or squatting there, Gillespie said. The Red Cross reported helping two people displaced by the fire, providing financial assistance for food, clothing and lodging.

Though officials have nothing as of this morning to indicate the fire was suspicious, the building continued to be treated as a crime scene this morning. Gillespie said that is to ensure that no possible evidence is lost.

“We’re now still very much in the middle of the investigation,” Gillespie said.

The fire itself kept firefighters busy for hours Thursday night. He described the fire as being contained to the third and fourth floors. But firefighting was hampered by the weather, and the building’s layout.

“The way it was broken up, made it very difficult to operate around the building and in the building,” Gillespie said. “There are so many different rooms, once you get in there in a smoke-filled environment, it makes it tough to find your way through effectively.”

City code enforcement officials were expected to examine the structure today to determine what to do with the building. Gillespie said, though, that the discussion he was hearing suggests the building might remain standing.

The fire was first called in by a man walking on State Street, who noticed smoke pouring from the windows and brick walls of the largely vacant former department store. Just as he was reporting the smoke, fire erupted from a window.

Residents of Liberty Street and nearby the building reported seeing work crews gutting it for several years. Nancy Simpson, a manager at the Barney Square apartments, figured they were getting ready to sell or renovate the building.

“There were several dumpsters full of junk,” she recalled Thursday evening.

But more recently work had stopped. City officials weren’t immediately aware of any proposed project for the building.

The owner-of-record is Ultimate Fitness Center, a company with an address at the building. Ultimate Fitness approached the city Planning Commission in March 2010 with a project to locate a gym in the building, but it was unclear whether it received an approval.

The building has more than 26,000 square feet and was valued at $375,000 in 2012. The structure was built in 1910 and once housed Patton & Hall Shoes and Hosiery, according to published reports.

Just as crews were wrapping up the State Street operation, another was reported in the attic of a vacant house on Strong Street around 10 p.m. In that blaze, firefighters were called to 1009 Strong St. When they arrived, they found that attic area fully involved in fire.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze and the building remained structurally sound, Gillespie said. The building was supposed to be vacant, though investigators were trying to determine if squatters had been inside.

The cause of that fire also remained under investigation.

 
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