It’s been a month since the fire in a 76-year-old Summit man’s wood-burning stove dwindled and went out.
The man, whose name was not released for privacy reasons, spent more than a week in his unheated Mud Lake Road home developing hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration before a worried neighbor called the Sheriff’s Department.
Following a rescue, he spent another three weeks recovering in a local hospital. Now he’s in fair condition, according to Bassett Healthcare spokeswoman Karen Huxtable, and has not been released.
“When he will be discharged is not clear at this point,” she said Friday.
One thing is clear: When the man is released, he won’t be going back to his Mud Lake Road home, at least not for a while. The place was declared unfit for human habitation on Feb. 25, the day firefighters and sheriff’s deputies forced the front door open to reach the man.
“There’s no heat, all the pipes are frozen and the whole place is full of trash and debris,” said Summit code enforcer Donald Clarke.
Clarke is also the Summit fire chief, so he was one of the first emergency responders at the scene. Early reports given by law enforcement suggested the man was held captive in his home by large mounds of snow that fell in front of his door. Clarke said the snow had little to do with the man’s condition.
“All those early reports were wrong,” he said. “He was trapped, but not by the snow. He barricaded himself in.”
According to Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond, authorities were first informed by a concerned neighbor. Desmond said another Mud Lake Road home owner called to check on the man but he “wasn’t making any sense.” Then the line disconnected.
“Then the neighbor noticed there wasn’t smoke coming out of the chimney,” Desmond said, “so he called us.”
Clarke described the scene when he arrived. The front porch of the man’s house was totally rotted off and the back steps were headed in the same direction. Windows were broken. Rescue workers could hear him shouting inside.
Emergency personnel, he said, forced the door open part way and squeezed through, moving the mounds of detritus to clear a path for others.
“There was nothing to him when we found him,” Clarke said. “He didn’t weigh much.”
Huxtable said the man requested that his name be kept private, and she couldn’t comment on the specifics of his condition.
What caused the events is still unclear.
“You need to put wood into a wood-burning stove,” Desmond said. “That didn’t happen.”
Beyond that, he’s not sure why the man stopped feeding his stove. Clarke isn’t sure why the door was barricaded.
Clarke said a number of locals are ready to help the man return home. The Schoharie County Department of Social Services is coordinating donations and volunteer labor in preparation for a cleanup and repair effort at the home.
“It’s up to the man now,” Clarke said, “if he wants to get back into his house.”