Schenectady

Schenectady house consumed by fire Wednesday cited for ‘electrical hazards’ March 7

Adults, children escape Wednesday morning fire
The aftermath of Wednesday's fire in Schenectady
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The aftermath of Wednesday's fire in Schenectady

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — A Hamilton Hill house that was destroyed by fire early Wednesday was still being occupied by a family despite a March 7 “order to vacate” that was issued by city codes officials, according to numerous parties interviewed after the blaze.

The fire at 351 Georgetta Dix Plaza left nine people homeless. Three weeks earlier, the city’s Bureau of Code Enforcement issued the order to tenants in the two-family home, citing a lack of smoke and carbon dioxide detectors as well as “electrical hazards.”

The family left the house after the city order but then returned at some later date unbeknownst to city officials, according to officials.

City Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico said the family was in the house illegally at the time of the fire.

Five children — including an infant — were among those who escaped unscathed from the second-floor apartment.

Resident Crystal Nolan described watching the fire originate from a plug situated between two couches before escaping with her family. 

The fire consumed the home and heavily damaged the unoccupied building next door.

Schenectady Fire Department Chief Ray Senecal told reporters mid-morning the cause remained under investigation and did not immediately return a phone call seeking an update late Wednesday afternoon.

ISSUES ADDRESSED?

Bob Bennett, father of resident Samantha Flagharty, said the family vacated the residence immediately after the order was posted earlier this month, a photo of which he provided to a reporter. 

But they re-entered because they said the notice had disappeared, giving them the mistaken impression the dwelling was safe to reoccupy when it was not, Nolan said.

Photos: Images from this morning’s fire, March 27, 2019

Nolan said the family had tried to remediate several violations themselves afterward.

Flagharty purchased and installed six smoke detectors last week, according to Bennett. 

Those units ultimately alerted them to the blaze, he said.

‘YOU HAVE TO LEAVE’

Under City Code, people have 30 days to correct deficiencies. Once they do so, they can request the code inspector perform re-inspections that would lift the orders to vacate.

Property owner Etwaru Savitree said she received a notice in the mail informing her of the violations, but did not formally request a re-inspection because she hadn’t yet addressed the issues. 

Savitree said she was preparing to make the necessary repairs before Wednesday’s fire.

“I was starting to do whatever was necessary,” Savitree said. “I bought $600 worth of materials to put in the first floor, and I have the receipts to prove it.”

The first-floor tenants heeded the eviction order and vacated the property and are now living at a nearby hotel, she said. But the second-floor residents refused to leave, she claimed.

Savitree said the order to vacate was removed from the front door before she had a chance to see it. She said it was unclear who removed it.

She visited the property as recently as Tuesday, but the second-floor occupants were still there.

“I told them, ‘You have to leave,’” Savitree said.

Photos: Images from this morning’s fire, March 27, 2019

Savitree said she didn’t notice anything that seemed immediately dangerous or that would cause a fire.

NO RE-INSPECTION AUTHORIZED

Falotico, the city’s corporation counsel, said occupants ordered to vacate unsafe buildings have the right to temporarily re-enter the structures to address the underlying violation for which the order was issued.

But the time frame for how quickly occupants must vacate depends on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Previous: Adults, children escape Wednesday morning fire in Schenectady

Falotico acknowledged there is no set procedure to monitor properties to ensure people aren’t illegally living in the structures, saying the Codes Department treats each order on a “case-by-case” determination.

A code inspector hadn’t visited the residence since the initial order was issued March 7, he said. 

The property had been cited numerous times in the past for violations, he said, most recently in February for lack of heat — the second time since October for the same issue.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect address for the fire. The address was 351 Georgetta Dix Plaza.

 

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