A man who tried to emulate a reality television show Thursday touched off the worst fire the city has seen, Mayor Shawn Morse told reporters Thursday evening.
The wind-whipped fire ripped through three blocks of downtown, destroying or damaging an estimated 20 buildings in the downtown Remsen Street area.
No serious injuries were reported, but Morse estimated the property damage in the millions of dollars, burning out businesses and residents. The number of people and businesses affected by the fire was not immediately available.
Investigators traced the fire to Cohoes resident John Gomes, who they say accidentally started the blaze as he recklessly used a burn barrel behind his building in 30 mph winds.
“Obviously, with 30 mph wind, the the fire got away and started the fire at 228 Remsen St.,” Morse told reporters at a press conference broadcast on Facebook Live by Gazette news gathering partner CBS6, “and the rest of you have been here to see the complete disaster that this has caused the city.”
Gomes, 51, told investigators he was trying to mimic a television show called “Forged in Fire,” by using the blaze to bend metal to apparently make a weapon, Morse said.
Such burn barrels are already banned in the city, regardless of weather. Gomes, however, indicated he set up the barrel closer to the house because of the wind, police said, believing it would result in a bigger fire.
After a swift investigation, police charged Gomes with fourth-degree arson and reckless endangerment, both felonies. He was arraigned and ordered held on $15,000 bail.
Morse called the fire “horrendous on our community.”
“This open burn just caused millions in damage and destroyed half of our downtown that we worked so hard to rebuild,” Morse said.
Firefighters from around the area worked into the evening to bring the massive fire under control and then prevent it from reigniting.
Work at the scene and the investigation was expected to continue for some time, Cohoes Fire Chief Joseph Fahd told CBS6.
“It’s going to be a long night for some of us and a long couple of days,” he said.
Morse declared a state of emergency in the city. The Red Cross arrived to help residents.
Morse listed some of the buildings affected, including areas set for new economic development and old stalwarts of the community. Smith’s Restaurant, an iconic fixture in the city, remained standing but sustained extensive water damage. Two three-story buildings were among those destroyed, Fahd said.
The fire also burned people out of their homes.
“The extent of damage is everything that you could ever see in a fire,” Morse said.
Morse, however, struck an optimistic tone about the path forward. He commended the municipality and its residents.
“Cohoes is a resilient city,” Morse said. “We are going to rebuild and we are going to be better than we have been.”