Vacant buildings on Prospect Terrace burn to the ground

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

A forest of charred beams is all that remained Wednesday morning of the vacant buildings on Prospect Terrace in Altamont that had once housed a pizza shop and a mechanics’ garage.

ALTAMONT — An acrid smell permeated the air as a block of charred remains still smoldered on Prospect Terrace Wednesday morning. Spent firefighters, still in heavy turnout gear and helmets, sat in snowbanks, looking at the ruin.

The property — with a row of vacant buildings that at various times housed a pizza restaurant and a car-repair shop — was filled with rubble. “The call came in at 4:08,” said Paul Miller, Altamont’s fire chief. It was fully involved by the time firefighters arrived on the scene.

Two feet of snow had fallen in Altamont on Tuesday, making it hard for the volunteer firefighters to get to hydrants. Assistant chief Mike Dempsey, who rested alongside Miller, seated in a snowbank, said he had dug out the fire hydrant at the corner of Prospect and Main streets.

Plows had cleared the road but the snow was banked high over the hydrants.

The water from the Altamont hydrants was not enough, though. A portable pond was used, filled with tanker-transported water from hydrants in Guilderland Center.

In addition to Altamont and Guilderland Center, fire departments from Guilderland, Fort Hunter, Pine Grove, Knox, New Salem, Voorheesville, and North Bethlehem helped fight the fire. The Westmere department was on standby.

Although the buildings were unused, some cars stored inside were ruined, said Miller. No one was in the buildings and no firefighters were hurt, he said, adding, “Knock on — a snowbank.”

“It was cold and the wind was a factor,” said Miller. The fire was knocked down in two hours, he said.

According to Albany County assessment rolls, 101 Prospect Terrace, with a full-market value of $136,364, and 102 Prospect Terrace, with a full market value of $105,114, are owned by Thomas and Sarah Ketchum. The fire was at 102 Prospect, which is described in the rolls as having an “auto body” shop; 101 is at the corner of Main Street and Prospect and has a now-vacant butcher shop.

In September, the Ketchums’ three-story home at 3935 Western Turnpike had burned. The Ketchums could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, Miller was waiting for workers from National Grid to arrive to “cut the gas line,” he said.

He also said the fire was being investigated by both the town of Guilderland and the New York State Fire Investigators.

“The way the wind was blowing protected the Agway,” Miller said. Altamont Country Values, often referred to as the Agway, sits directly behind the fire scene at 106 Prospect Terrace. The wind was blowing south, toward Main Street and away from Altamont Country Values.

Also, a tall row of mulch pallets, stacked at the edge of the Agway parking lot next to the fire scene helped protect the Agway.

“A phenomenal job”

Daniel Dymes, who owns Altamont Country Values, said on Wednesday morning that he was both frustrated and grateful. He was frustrated, he said, because it was two days in a row without customers. The record winter storm had kept customers away on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning a fire truck still filled the road, although one customer had come by foot to buy a dog leash.

Dymes said that he had 66 pallets of mulch — three tractor-trailer loads — stacked next to the fire scene that would now be unsellable. Also, his box delivery truck had “the front melted off and who knows what it did to the mechanics,” he said.

But, he went on, “We’re really fortunate. Stuff can be replaced. People can’t be replaced.” He also said he was insured.

Dymes witnessed the fire.

Because of the snowstorm, he said, “I got stuck here last night.” He spent the night across the street from his store at Larry Adams’s home; Adams works in the store and also for the village of Altamont as the assistant superintendent of public works.

“They needed water and Larry got the call,” said Dymes. Adams woke Dymes so that he could move his delivery truck to safety. “But I got stuck in the snow,” he said. “By that point, the building was fully involved.”

“It was an inferno,” Dymes said, describing in one word how he felt: helpless.

But, he went on, “The fire department did a phenomenal job.”

And, he said, he was lucky that the wind was blowing toward Main Street. “We all were lucky,” said Dymes. “We have a propane tank,” he said, noting it is installed according to code and the Altamont Fire Department has trained on the grounds.

He concluded, “The good thing about this community is how people pull together.” He said that Mark Pollard — “who has other stuff he should be doing” — was coming over to clear the Agway parking lot. “Once we move the snow, we can see what is damaged,” Dymes said.

He also commended the women in the fire department’s auxiliary. “They set up a comfort station with hot coffee and stuff for the firemen,” he said. “They were familiar faces you see in here all the time.”

Updated on March 15, 2017: A sentence was added distinguishing 101 Prospect Terrace from 102 Prospect, where the fire occurred.

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