The fire that destroyed a vacant, city-owned house in Amsterdam Tuesday night, taking two other houses with it, got started outside the building, so it is arguable whether the building not being properly secured had anything to do with the fire. But police say the building’s windows were broken, and that surely accelerated the spread of the fire once the building ignited, and the next-door neighbor told a reporter that “kids go in and out of [the building] all the time.” So it’s likely that had the house been properly secured, the 13-year-old who started the fire wouldn’t have even been there, and had the windows had been intact, the fire wouldn’t have spread out of control so fast.
The point, made in an editorial April 15, is that the city has to do more to secure its multitude of vacant buildings to prevent this very kind of highly destructive and dangerous vandalism from occurring. It owns more than 50 of these structures, and while it is planning to demolish some of them because they are too far gone to rehabilitate, that’s not the case with all of them. And as this week’s fire showed, good houses are often next to bad ones and can be destroyed too. Luckily, in this case, the family living next to 33 Mechanic St. was able to escape unharmed; not so their collection of pets.
The fire has exposed another serious weakness in Amsterdam: the city’s water infrastructure. The main serving the hydrant on Mechanic Street is but four inches, and thus could not produce enough water to fight Tuesday’s fire. To get more, crews had to hook up to a hydrant several hundred feet away, at the corner of Market and Green streets, and the switch took valuable time.
The city has to figure out a way not only to reduce the incidence of fire in these crowded old neighborhoods, but a more effective way to fight the ones that do occur. What happened Tuesday is cause for concern.