Schenectady County

House fire leaves couple dead

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a fire early Friday morning that tore throu
Albany County District Attorney Investigators, State Fire Investigators, and Bethlehem Police investigate a double fatal house fire overnight at 775 River Rd. (Route 144) in the Town of Bethlehem.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Albany County District Attorney Investigators, State Fire Investigators, and Bethlehem Police investigate a double fatal house fire overnight at 775 River Rd. (Route 144) in the Town of Bethlehem.

Fire Location

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a fire early Friday morning that tore through a house at 775 River Road and left two people dead.

The victims were identified as Robert A. Newberry, 61, who died of severe thermal burns and his wife Susan Newberry, 60, who died of smoke inhalation, according to Lt. Thomas M. Heffernan Jr. of the Bethlehem Police Department.

The couple leave behind grown children.

The origin of the fire did not appear to be suspicious in nature, Heffernan said.

The fire was reported at 1:53 a.m. Friday when police received calls from neighbors who passed by and observed the house was on fire. Police said it can be a busy street and even at this early hour there was a fair amount of traffic on the road.

“At the initial call it was fully involved and the heavy flame involvement was in the center of the house,” said Selkirk Fire Chief William Borger.

First responding police officers and firefighters had a difficult time gaining access to the house because of the intensity of the fire.

“They attempted to gain entry into the house, but were unable to because of the heat and flames,” said Heffernan.

It took about two hours for the Selkirk Fire Department and Coeymans Fire Department to extinguish the fire and determine the house was safe to enter.

Once it was determined to be safe, members of the Bethlehem Police Department’s Fire Investigations Team and New York state Fire Investigators were able to enter the home to search for the residents.

The first victim was located in the front of the house in the living room area, and the second victim was located in a bathroom toward the back of the house.

Heffernan said it was difficult to determine how long the fire was burning or when it started.

The fire caused extensive structural damage to the house and when firefighters got into the house they discovered part of the floor had collapsed into the basement, which made it difficult to battle the blaze.

It appeared the fire started in the front of the one-story house, based on information that it started in a family room, which is where one of the residents slept because of a medical condition .

Borger said explosions were reported and fire investigators found oxygen bottles on the front lawn when they arrived.

Heffernan said oxygen tanks were being used for medical reasons by one of the residents.

“According to some witnesses they did hear some explosions. There were oxygen tanks in the house [and] we believe that’s what the explosions were,” said Heffernan.

Heffernan said the cold weather created tough conditions and made it hazardous for the firefighters.

Fire investigators remained at the scene late into the day Friday to determine the origin of the fire.

River Road was closed for about six hours because of the fire.

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