Berne house fire set in attempt to build anew

— Photo from the Albany County Sheriff’s Office

Firefighters stand outside a home on Woodstock Road in Berne. The home was set on fire by the owner because, police say, he wanted to build a new house.

BERNE — A man set his Berne home on fire in order to demolish the house and build a new one in its place. The Albany County Sheriff’s Office reports that Andrew Preisner set his vacant log home at 370 Woodstock Rd. on fire Sunday morning.

The sheriff’s office received a call for a structure fire at 8:55 in the morning, according to a police report. The Berne Volunteer Fire Company, Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company, and Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company all responded to the scene and put out the fire, the report says.

The Helderberg Ambulance Squad and the sheriff’s emergency medical services unit also responded.

An investigation by the sheriff’s office revealed that Preisner owned his home outright, and cleared everything out of it with the intent to destroy it, according to Chief Deputy William Rice, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. Rice said that a year ago Preisner had asked the town of Berne for permission to demolish the home this way but was denied.

On Sunday, Preisner called in a controlled burn to the sheriff’s communications office, said Rice; he then used a mixture of gasoline and diesel fuel to light the structure on fire.

“Obviously, when they call in a controlled burn, they don’t specify it … ,” said Rice. A passerby later called 9-1-1 after seeing the flames, he added.

“It was pretty well-going by the time the neighbor called it in,” said Westerlo’s fire chief, Kevin Flensted. The building, a log cabin, was already only standing walls and a collapsed roof, he said.

The fire appeared to stay contained in the structure, said Rice.

New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation arrived on the scene to ticket Preisner, as well as to order the building be demolished.

“It was more an En-Con violation than criminal law,” said Rice. He explained that, since Preisner’s home did not have any mortgages or liens, he could legally burn down his own property if it weren’t for violating the open burn law. Rice added that Preisner did not have an insurance policy that he could collect from and benefit from.

Preisner was charged by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation Police for an unlawful open burn, a misdemeanor, according to the report. He is scheduled to appear in Berne Town Court, said Rice.

The Westerlo Volunteer Fire Company was dispatched at 9:50 a.m. along with the Berne Fire District as mutual aid, said Flensted. The first truck arrived about six minutes after that, he said.

Neighbors told the firefighters that there were chemicals inside, and so the firefighters waited for 35 minutes before they determined that there were no chemicals inside, and then proceeded to extinguish the fire.

“The initial knockdown was quick,” said Flensted. But because of the damage to the structure, the rest of the building had to be taken down with an excavator, as ordered by DEC. The fire was completely extinguished by 1:50 p.m., said Flensted.

The property is listed on the Albany County tax rolls as having a taxable value of $154,800 and a full market value of $241,875. Preisner is listed on Berne tax rolls as residing at 112 Halfmoon Dr. in Altamont.


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