Crews plan to search inside a Jay Street apartment building today as part of an ongoing investigation into a massive fire that gutted the complex early Friday.
Schenectady police Lt. Mark McCracken said city firefighters and investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stabilized the structure and can now enter through the ground floor of the buildings to start sorting through the debris for any human remains and to determine the cause of the fire and its point of origin.
McCracken said the buildings were shored up Monday before the search gets underway. Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said the focus would be on entering 104 Jay St., where the fire started, because it is still unsafe to enter 100-102 Jay St.
Over the past two days, ATF agents were lowered inside the roofless buildings in a basket suspended by a crane to document the wreckage of the top floors.
Jackson Demolition of Schenectady removed part of the top of 104 Jay St. on Sunday. McCracken said the buildings would be taken apart, piece-by-piece, to allow for investigators to search the complex.
The investigation is expected to continue throughout the week and possibly into next week.
“Because of the scope and magnitude of the damage, it’s going to be a longer period of time,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said during a City Council meeting Monday evening. “It will probably run through this week and be a continued inconvenience for people coming in and out of downtown.”
Several people are missing after the fire, McCracken said. It’s unclear how many people are unaccounted for at this time. Seven people were hospitalized after the fire and their conditions are not being released.
McCracken said the Police Department has a tenant list but it’s unclear who was in the buildings at the time of the fire and if tenants had any guests that night.
“They’re continuously updating the list,” he said. “As of Saturday morning about 60 people were displaced.”
Posters were hung near the scene on Jay Street of a missing person named Robert Thomas who, according to the poster, was last seen on Thursday. The poster asks that anyone with information about his whereabouts contact Michael at 518-250-8718.
Anthony Cortese, of 104 Jay St., said Friday that he believes his friend and neighbor, who lived on the fourth floor of the building, did not escape.
Dennis Thomas, of 100 Jay St., said he doesn’t believe a man with a German shepherd on the sixth floor made it out of the building safely. He said his car is still parked behind the building.
Several residents of 100 Jay said the building’s fire alarms and sprinkler system did not go off during the blaze.
“I did not hear any alarms,” Thomas said. “When the fire alarm goes off there are strobe lights. When I left the fifth floor there was already smoke in the hallways. There was a sprinkler system but it did not go off.”
Samantha Bristol, who lived in the building, also said the sprinkler system did not go off during the fire.
Brenda Lupe, who also lived in the building, said the fire alarms did not go off in the building until she was safely outside.
Lupe provided two videos of the fire to The Daily Gazette. In one video the sound of alarms could not be heard, she said. In the second video, as the fire had progressed, an alarm could be heard.
McCracken said whether the alarm system or sprinkler system was working in the two buildings can’t be determined until investigators start searching inside.
Residents say the building was also in poor condition with potential code violations, including no heat and a nonworking elevator.
Thomas said there was garbage on the fire escapes, a sofa blocking the fire door and periods of no heat.
Lupe pointed to the same issues as Thomas.
James Lynch, who also lived in the building, said some of the windows were broken and that the landlord set up space heaters with long extension cords running through the hallways.
McCarthy said Monday that city officials could not comment further on the condition of the buildings or any potential code violations because of the ongoing investigation.
The landlord of 100 Jay St., Vytas Meskauskas, who lives in New York City, could not be reached for comment.
City Building Inspector Eric Shilling said Friday that code enforcement officials inspected all 20 units of 104 Jay St. the day before the fire. The department found that certifications for the alarm system and boiler and furnace were expired. The alarm system certification expired Feb 26. Shilling said that 100 Jay St. did not have any current code violations.
The landlord of 104 Jay St., Ted Gounaris, said Monday that he does not have any more information than what is being reported in the media and that he has been in contact with the police. He declined further comment.
Tenants displaced by the fire were offered shelter at the Christ Church on State Street. Since the fire, about 40 people were seeking assistance with the Department of Social Services to find more permanent housing.
Thomas said he wouldn’t have made it out of the building if Lupe didn’t wake him up.
“Brenda was kicking and banging on my door,” he said. “We used to have a lot of false alarms and we got tired of it. The system was faulty. It wasn’t working during the fire. After Brenda woke me up, I saw flames shooting up from the fourth floor of the building next door. I can still hear the screaming.”