Fire victims picking up the pieces after loss

Nelson Travis grabbed a soot-stained picture frame and cleared its blackened center with his thumb t
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Nelson Travis grabbed a soot-stained picture frame and cleared its blackened center with his thumb to reveal the beaming smile of his 10-year-old son.

Beside him on the lawn at 1257 High Bridge Road stood an antique side table he had intended to restore and a pair of his son’s Rotterdam Little League trophies, all darkened by the thick black smoke that filled his apartment late Sunday.

“This is pretty much what is left,” said Travis, gesturing to a small cluster of furniture, pictures and keepsakes rescued from his apartment. “And all this, I don’t know if it can be salvaged.”

Travis and his two young sons were among nine residents left homeless — including four young children — after an accidental fire ripped through the second floor of the four-unit apartment building. Schenectady County fire investigators determined the blaze started from a cooking accident in a kitchen on the second floor.

Though the flames were knocked down about 15 minutes after firefighters arrived, the fire destroyed one apartment and badly damaged another. County Fire Coordinator John Nuzback said flames spread from the kitchen and through the building’s back porch by the time crews arrived.

“There was a pretty good volume of the fire when we got there,” he said.

Though most of the damage was contained to the second floor, the first-floor apartments sustained both smoke and water damage. Nuzback said the building was considered uninhabitable; all four apartments were ordered vacated, and the area Red Cross was alerted.

“It’s salvageable, but they can’t live there until it gets redone,” he said Monday. “It’s going to be a while before it’s all cleaned up.”

The fire has thrown Travis’ life into chaos. He estimated that he lost more than half of his belongings, while the resident in the adjacent apartment where the fire started lost everything.

Travis said he’s also trying to explain the fire to his two young children, who were visiting their mother when the blaze broke out. He said his older son is coming to terms with the fire. But it is different for Israel, his 19-month-old son.

“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said. “But he will when he finds out his toys are gone.”

Downstairs neighbor Laura Ruth sympathized with Travis, who didn’t have renter’s insurance. The single mother offered him several toys she was able to salvage from her own smoke- and water-damaged apartment.

“I’m a lot more fortunate than the people upstairs,” she said.

Like Travis, Ruth is faced with an abrupt move with her two young children from the building that was home for the past year. Though Cody, 8, and Oliva, 6, will go to live with their father temporarily, she was unsure where she would be staying or how many of her possessions are salvageable. She also lacked renter’s insurance.

“I really don’t know what was damaged and what was not,” she said, taking a break from packing up her belongings. “I’m just throwing it in boxes.”

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