A Monday night fire in Albany's Center Square neighborhood has destroyed several historic buildings and displaced residents.
Speaking Tuesday afternoon at City Hall, Albany Fire Chief Warren Abriel said the fire apparently began on the second floor of 406 Madison Avenue on a night when severe thunderstorms rolled through the Capital Region. "It was approximately ten minutes to 9 last night when we got the call. It was a busy period right then, we had a couple of calls with the storm. But when the call went out units responding from the South End firehouse could see it in the air, Engine 1 and Rescue 1 on the other side of the park could see it in the air. They transmitted a Signal 30 which is a working fire. That brings in the support staff and the deputy chief and myself. They arrived a minute later, reported heavy fire in the rear, across the three buildings. We transmitted a second alarm at 9:02. That brought additional apparatus."
Before the night was over, fire crews from Troy and Watervliet joined the effort. All five buildings, row-houses stacked one against another, were fully occupied and many residents literally escaped with just the clothes on their backs. Some pets feared to have perished in the inferno turned up later, and were re-united with their owners. Abriel says firefighters braved intense heat, humidity and thick smoke, but the fire was aggressive and the old buildings unforgiving. "When they started pulling the ceilings in 404 they found they had three ceilings. It was a sheet-rock ceiling and when they got done it was a slab and plaster and then they had planking which was on top of that. That can really tire firefighters out."
Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries. The Red Cross is assisting 16 people who are now homeless.
Mayor Kathy Sheehan says officials are in the process of setting up a relief fund after receiving an outpouring of offers to help. "We had hoped to be able to announce it today, but it looks like it's going to be tomorrow by the time everything gets set up. There are a number of ways that we can do it, and so we're in the process. We've had so many offers of help and we wanna involve the Lark Street BID."
Demolition of four of the five buildings which date back to the 1800s was scheduled to start late this afternoon and is expected to be completed by 9 o’clock tonight. According to the mayor, an engineering analysis determined only 412 Madison can be saved. She promises the city will ensure that any rebuilding will complement the character of the neighborhood. A cause has yet to be determined.