An 86-year-old city man died in an early morning fire that engulfed a home on Helderberg Avenue “in a heartbeat,” according to an upstairs resident who made it out uninjured.
The man lived alone on the first floor of the two-family home at 1080-1082 Helderberg Ave. Firefighters responded to the blaze just before 7 a.m. and tried to rescue the man, said Schenectady Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco, but were ordered out of the building when the structure became unsafe.
“It’s a very serious fire,” Della Rocco said as crews mopped up the last of the fire around 8:30 a.m. “Conditions started to deteriorate, and we ordered them out of the building and began a defensive fire attack.”
The building is owned by David Devito, according to property records. He lives upstairs with his wife and adult son, and was renting the downstairs apartment to the elderly man, whose identity was not released Saturday.
Devito’s wife, who declined to give her name, said her family was asleep when they heard a fire alarm go off around 6:50 a.m. They smelled smoke coming up the stairs, called 911 and immediately tried to get out.
“I came out the front,” she said. “There was a ton of smoke in both the front and back. It just was engulfed in a heartbeat, and it was gone.”
She was treated with oxygen once she made it out, while the rest of the family also escaped uninjured. One cat was rescued from upstairs, but another one is missing, she said.
About an hour after the fire first broke out on the first floor, crews were still trying to tamp down flames inside the walls of the home.
Della Rocco said flames nearly spread to the home next door, and there was some exposure to its facing side, but it appeared to only leave a faint trail of soot on the exterior.
The burned home was a much starker scene. Glass in the windows had blown out. Parts of the roof had caved in. The attic was nearly gone, with only its charred frame visible from the street. Every open view into the home was completely black and charred, and a tree reaching up to the second floor porch was singed.
“The building inspector is here doing an evaluation now to see if it’s going to be ordered for demolition,” said Della Rocco. “When the crews arrived here, the attic was heavily engulfed in fire.”
Firefighters found the victim’s body in the first floor bedroom.
The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Saturday, and Della Rocco declined to speculate on what may have hindered the victim from getting out of the house.
“We’ll know more about that as time goes on,” Della Rocco said. “We have to verify, match everything up to the story that we’re hearing from our firefighters.”
The upstairs family received emergency aid from the Northeastern New York chapter of the American Red Cross in the form of money for food and clothing.