ROTTERDAM – An extensive April 6 fire at Rotterdam Self Storage started in a unit that was rented by an 80-year-old man who was seen outside the unit with a cigar in one hand and a towel he used in an attempt to extinguish the blaze in the other, county investigators said Tuesday.
But whether the man’s smoking caused the fire wasn’t stated with certainty in the fire examination by the investigation division of Schenectady County’s Office of the Fire Coordinator.
“The Schenectady County Fire Investigation Team was unable to eliminate a hypothesis involving the ignition of combustible materials produced by smoking materials as potential causes of the fire,” the report said.
However, open flames were eliminated as a potential cause. There were matches and lighters found in the man’s unit, but they were not believed to be the fire’s origin, the report reads.
Other possibilities, such as the weather – 64 degrees with a 9 mph wind that day – were also eliminated as possible causes of the fire at 103 Old Mill Lane.
Also eliminated as causes were heating units, hot objects, electrical distribution, building wiring, appliance wiring, spontaneous heating combustion and chemical reaction/agents, the report said.
The self-storage business has 95 units that are made of concrete blocks with common attic space with no fire blocks in the attic area. Each unit has its own overhead door, ceilings were sheetrock, and there is no electricity in the units, although wiring in the attic runs along the structure for exterior lighting.
The fire caused extensive damage and a partial roof collapse. The day of the fire, investigators said the contents of at least 25 units were destroyed.
According to the report, the north corner of the roof and ceiling joists were completely consumed by fire.
Howard Iovino, whose listed address was the local Super 8, was at his unit when police and firefighters arrived, according to the report, which was provided to the newspaper Tuesday in response to its Freedom of Information Law request.
Iovino had arrived at the facility at 9:30 a.m., he reportedly told investigators.
A Rotterdam police officer’s body camera showed Iovino say that he was smoking a cigar in the unit of the fire’s origin and that he tried to put the fire out.
The overhead door to his unit was completely open. The fire extended to the ceiling, traveling to its two neighboring units, then to other units, the report said.
There were also matches and lighters in the unit, but they were not believed to have started the fire.
Iovino said he used a lighter to light his cigar. He was seen outside the unit with a towel in one hand and cigar in the other.
The business has been inaccessible – fenced with a security guard on the grounds – since the day of the fire.
David and Erica Murrell are in an ongoing dispute with the company. The Guilderland couple said they have an estimated $200,000 worth of belongings in their unit. They have said the items are intact and they want them back.
The business is owned by Prime Group Holdings of Saratoga Springs. It is a real estate owner-operator of self-storage facilities throughout North America, owning and managing more than $3 billion of self-storage properties, with a portfolio of more than 215 self-storage facilities in 25 states and one U.S. territory.
Reached Tuesday, COO David Decker said the company plans to rebuild.
“We will continue and hope to return the business as soon as possible,” Decker said.
Asked about its plans with fire victims, he said, “We require all of our tenants to carry insurance and hope that they do. We’ll work with anybody otherwise if things escalated beyond that. I’m not aware of any.”