Schenectady County

Child playing with lighter cited as cause of near-tragedy

A 4-year-old girl started the fire that destroyed much of a three-story apartment building Monday mo

A 4-year-old girl started the fire that destroyed much of a three-story apartment building Monday morning, Chief Robert Farstad said.

A child who lived on the second floor of 859 Strong St. found a lighter early Monday morning. She set her bed on fire and then ran to tell her 10-year-old sister, he said.

“They attempted to put it out with water first,” Farstad said.

That was their first mistake. Beds burn rapidly, Farstad said, and few fires can be extinguished with a couple bowls of water. He has often urged residents to call 911 immediately even if they think they can put out the fire themselves — after all, if the fire is out when firefighters arrive, they won’t mind, he says. And if it’s not, the firefighters can often knock it down before it grows out of control.

By the time the 10-year-old stopped throwing water on the bed and called 911, the fire had spread beyond the bedroom. The girls and their mother escaped, but they didn’t warn their upstairs neighbors, who were trapped when the fire reached the stairwell. All six upstairs residents were rescued by ladder.

The girl also didn’t tell firefighters that there were other residents in the house, Farstad added.

The many mistakes the children made nearly led to a tragedy, he said. He ticked off the list, saying he’d like to “remind the public” to not leave fire-starters where children can get to them; to not play with fire; to call 911 immediately rather than trying to put out a fire; and to warn all residents of a house when evacuating during a fire.

“It could have been a real tragedy,” he said.

The fire left 30 percent of the shift’s crew injured and the building in near-ruins. It can be repaired, but it will be costly, Farstad said.

There is extensive fire damage to the second and third floors and the attic. But firefighters were able to put it out without ripping holes in the roof. Farstad said they try to avoid that in the winter.

The fire was called in at 9:44 a.m. — when it was already well under way — and was not under control until nearly 1 p.m. It was not completely out until 2:42 p.m.

The house was home to 11 people — an elderly couple on the first floor, the family of three on the second floor, and the family of six on the third floor. Firefighters determined the cause of the fire after interviewing the second-floor family, Farstad said.

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