No residents home as New Salem house burns, three pets rescued

— Photo from Google Street View

This house at 2680 New Scotland Road, in New Salem at the foot of the Helderbergs, burned on Sunday. No one was home at the time of the fire and three pets were rescued by firefighters.

NEW SALEM — The quick action of a father-son firefighting duo may have salvaged a burning house on Sunday evening.

A passer-by, driving along Route 85 at the foot of the Helderbergs, saw flames coming from the house at 2680 New Scotland Road, according to New Salem’s chief, Steve Ayers.

The call came at 7:57 p.m. Ayers lives on New Scotland Road, just a few minutes away, near Stove Pipe Road. He jumped in his car and was on the scene in a few minutes.

When he pulled up, he could see flames coming out of the window on the ground floor of the two-story frame house. His son, Captain Matt Ayers, pulled in right after him.

Steve Ayers said of his 24-year-old son, “He grew up in the fire service like I did.” Matt Ayers’s grandfather and great-grandfather were also volunteer firefighters. “We enjoy helping the community,” said the elder Ayers.

“Between us, we had three fire extinguishers,” he said of their situation on Sunday evening. “We were able to knock the fire down till the first truck arrived.”

In addition to New Salem’s volunteer company, Ayers said, “we called for mutual aid.” Voorheesville, Slingerlands, and Onesquethaw responded, he said, along with Albany County’s Emergency Medical Services.

None of the residents were home. The American Red Cross put out a release saying it was providing “shelter, food and clothing to two adults and a nine-year-old child.”

Red Cross spokeswoman Mary Alice Molgard told The Enterprise it is Red Cross policy not to give out names; she was unaware of any fundraising efforts to help the residents displaced from their home.

On Tuesday, Molgard, who does her job as a volunteer, said she was dealing with seven fires in the 27-county area she is responsible for releasing information about. She said she believed the New Salem house was for sale and that pets were rescued.

Ayers said that firefighters removed two dogs and a rabbit from the burning home. “The rabbit was fine,” he said. “The first dog came out barking. The second dog was not breathing.”

Firefighters got the dog to breathe again before all three pets were taken for veterinary care, said Ayers.

The volunteers managed to keep the fire to the first floor, Ayers said, although there was smoke damage on the second floor. “But the family should be able to get their possessions intact from the second floor,” he said.

The fire was knocked down in the first 45 minutes, Ayers said. He described it as a “balloon-frame house, all wood and timber,” which means flames can travel easily in the spaces between the lumber.

The house was sided in vinyl, which is “not a huge deal — it just melts,” said Ayers.

“After that was overhaul … making sure hot spots are out,” Ayers said. “I left the scene a little bit before midnight.”

The Albany County assessment rolls list the house at 2680 New Scotland Road as being owned by Joseph M. Donato with a full-market value of $243,500.

Ayers said, “They were related to the Donato family where we lost the people over the summer.”

Three people died in a July 8 fire on Normanskill Road in New Scotland, after which the house was demolished.

“It was horrible. That house was mostly gone when we got there,” said Ayers of the July 8 fire.

On whether the house in the Nov. 26 fire could be salvaged, Ayers said, “The insurance company will make that judgment.”

He said he could not comment on the cause of the fire. “It’s been turned over to the sheriff’s for investigation,” Ayers said.

A miniature version of the house — built in the 19th Century with Greek Revival elements — lives on at the museum of the New Scotland Historical Association.

The model was built to scale by Don Whalen and furnished with miniature appointments by his wife, Loretta Beeler Whalen, much to the delight of children who lived in New Salem in the late 20th Century.

The Whalens had purchased their home in 1959 for $12,500 and raised their two sons there as they carefully renovated the house, room by room. The Whalens donated the replica of their house to the museum where, association member Judy Kimes confirmed this week, it is still on display.

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