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Knox man holds off firefighters, police while home burns

8-hour standoff ends with arrest of contractor

Embers from what used to be houses on a property at 75 Saddlemire Road in the town of Knox, illuminate the sky early Feb. 6.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Embers from what used to be houses on a property at 75 Saddlemire Road in the town of Knox, illuminate the sky early Feb. 6.
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— Kenneth Fortuin allegedly called dispatchers and warned them not to send firefighters to his burning home or else.

The distraught 49-year-old contractor’s warning was relayed to Knox Fire Chief Bill Vinson, who had arrived at the scene on Saddlemire Road late Wednesday to find several trees deliberately blocking firefighters’ path to a blaze raging in the distance.

The original threat of harm, coupled with the downed trees and police already surrounding the area, prompted him to pull his crew out of the area.

“We weren’t there very long,” he recalled Thursday. “We did nothing.”

For authorities, there was concern Fortuin was armed, and there was fear the threats he voiced to dispatchers were anything but idle.

State troopers and deputies from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office took over, eventually locating Fortuin in a pickup truck parked in one of the fields surrounding his burning residence.

State police hostage negotiators began a dialogue and ended the standoff peacefully without any injuries at 7:07 a.m. Friday — more than eight hours after it began.

Fortuin was charged with felony third-degree arson and misdemeanor obstructing firefighting operations. he was arraigned Thursday afternoon in Knox Town Court and sent to the Albany County jail without bail. Authorities said he could face additional charges.

Fortuin’s home and three other structures on his sprawling rural property burned to the ground.

State police spokesman Mark Cepiel said the fires were spread out and appeared to have been started independently.

“It wasn’t a case of one starting and then spreading to others,” he said. “There were no fire operations to combat them.”

Cepiel wouldn’t comment on whether any firearms were recovered from the scene.

Fortuin’s brother, Richard, is a member of the Knox Fire Department with nearly three decades of service, according to the agency’s roster.

Cepiel was unsure if there was anyone other than Fortuin on the property at the time of the incident. He said Fortuin was alone when they located him.

The incident scrambled troopers from the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Aviation Unit and Special Operations Response Team.

Additional assistance was provided by the state police Electronic Surveillance Unit and the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.

The scene was eerily reminiscent two years ago, when a gunman ambushed responding firefighters in the town of Webster, outside Rochester.

The gunman, 62-year-old William Spengler, set fire to his home and then shot four firefighters, killing two.

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