Firefighters from 11 towns responded to a blaze on Main Street late Monday night and when the smoke cleared, three buildings were gone.
Fire Chief Andy Kelley said the blaze that apparently started in the basement of Woodwork's Furniture Gallery may have been caused by a faulty furnace. The chief said the blaze was the worst he's ever seen in his hometown.
"When we pulled up, we saw an inferno," Kelley said. "The flames were just shooting up the buildings and the black smoke was everywhere."
He said six people from three families had escaped from second-floor apartments above a tattoo parlor next to the furniture store.
"The second floor of the furniture store had been office space in the past, but I believe it was vacant," he said.
The third building damaged beyond repair was Mollie's Mason Jar, a restaurant that had been in business for about two years.
Kelley watched late Tuesday morning as heavy equipment scooped up burnt rubble and loaded it into dump trucks. He said all three buildings would be leveled and removed by the end of the day.
"The health and safety risks are too great. I want to see nothing but dirt on the ground when they are done," he said.
For Mollie and Jeff Milkiewicz, the demolition was tough to watch. They spoke with their insurance agent in a Stewart's Shop booth across the street from their restaurant.
The couple, who live in Queensbury, said they opened Mollie's Mason Jar in November 2005 because they saw a need for a hometown restaurant. Mollie Milkiewicz said they served breakfast and lunch and had begun serving dinner on Friday and Saturday nights the past few months.
Jeff Milkiewicz said he got a call just before 11 p.m. Monday that there was a fire on Main Street.
"I got the call that the furniture store was on fire, and by the time I got over here and looked at the scene, I knew it wasn't good," he said.
About an hour later, he and his wife were watching their own building go up in flames, despite the efforts of dozens of firefighters.
Kelley said three pumper trucks drew water from the nearby Hudson River when village water supplies dwindled.
The village declared a state of emergency early Tuesday morning and asked all water users to conserve. Corinth Central School was closed Tuesday due to water concerns.
Corinth Emergency Squad President Randy Tubbs said he called 15 volunteers into service when the fire whistle blew, but no injuries were reported.
"We did take two firemen to the hospital for high blood pressure, but no one was hurt fighting the fire," he said.
Sheila McGuire, who works at the Stewart's Shop across the street from the fire scene, said the store closes from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., but she was called in at 1 a.m. to make coffee and offer firefighters a warm place to escape sub-zero temperatures.
"I made 45 pots of coffee from 1 to 4 [a.m.], and they cleaned us out of doughnuts," she said.
Firefighters from Lake George, Queensbury, West Glens Falls, South Glens Falls, Wilton, Middle Grove, Greenfield, Porter Corners, Hadley-Luzerne and Saratoga Springs helped battle the blaze, according to Kelley.
Nearly 14 hours after the fire was reported, he was still on the scene, watching volunteers douse hot spots as a front-end loader scooped blackened wood and metal from the pile and placed it in a dump truck.
He said he was grateful no one had been hurt.
The Adirondack Saratoga chapter of the American Red Cross set up a shelter on Smith Drive to house the apartment dwellers who lost their homes. Chapter Director Eileen Reardon said only one person took advantage of the shelter.
"We got to the fire about an hour after it was discovered, and already the community had rallied and taken most of the people from the apartments into homes for the night," she said.
Reardon said residents of neighboring apartments that were not damaged by the fire but were temporarily without electricity because of the blaze were also offered assistance at the shelter.
"There was a great deal of confusion about how many apartments were involved and how many people actually lost everything in the fire," Reardon said.
Early reports from the scene estimated 50 people had been living in the buildings that burned, but only six were left homeless.