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Niskayuna woman injured in early morning house fire

Niskayuna woman injured in early morning house fire

Blaze broke out around 6 a.m. in near-zero temperatures
Niskayuna woman injured in early morning house fire
Schenectady and Niskayuna firefighters battle a fire at 1045 Van Antwerp Road on Jan. 6, 2018.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:40 p.m. Jan. 9 to fix the spelling of Franceline Leary's name.

NISKAYUNA — A resident was injured when an early morning fire damaged her home on Van Antwerp Road on Saturday.

Niskayuna firefighters said the woman, whom neighbors identified as Franceline Leary, was taken to Albany Medical Center for treatment and later transported to a Syracuse-area hospital. Her condition was not known as of Monday. 

Niskayuna District 1 Fire Chief Dale Lingenfelter said the woman was able to escape the burning building and entered her car to stay warm until emergency responders arrived.

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Firefighters said the fire — fought for four hours in near zero-degree temperatures — broke out around 6 a.m.  

When first responders arrived, they found heavy smoke throughout the neighborhood. Flames appeared shortly afterward.

“It started in the rear and worked its way into the attic and the front of the house,” Lingenfelter said of the fire.

“There was a lot of storage in the house,” Lingenfelter added. “It made access into the house a bit unsafe for the firefighters.

“Because there was no life hazard inside, we chose to fight it from the exterior and not put our people at risk.”

The cause of the fire is officially listed as undetermined, but Lingenfelter said an initial investigation indicated there was probably an electrical overload or malfunction related to the use of a portable heating unit or units.

He also noted that due to the extent of the damage, a specific cause could not be identified. 

Niskayuna police closed down Van Antwerp between Union and Plum streets while firefighters were at the scene.

The light blue house is located across from Ray Street. The slate roof and back sections of the building sustained the most extensive damage.

Cold temperatures — the National Weather Service expected a high temperature of only 1 degree for the day — hampered firefighting efforts. 

Street pavement in front of the house was coated with ice, as water used to fight the blaze quickly froze. Trees in the front and side yards also were covered with thick frost.

“The high winds were a contributing factor,” Lingenfelter said later Saturday morning. “It’s calmed down now, but when the fire was burning, we had a pretty good wind blowing from the west.”

Linda Champagne, who lives next door, saw flames in the back section of the house. “It slowly moved to the center and the front,” she said, adding the kitchen is located in the back of the house.

Susanne Doyle, who lives across the street at the corner of Van Antwerp and Ray, said she woke up smelling a sweet-scented odor she later realized was smoke.

“I went to the window and saw it was on fire,” Doyle said,

“When I was growing up, we had a kitchen fire,” Doyle said. “I’ve never been this close.”

Lingenfelter strongly advised following the manufacturer’s instructions if using a portable heater and to not use extension cords to power the heaters, as the extension cords are not meant to carry such an electrical load and can quickly overheat and catch fire.

Lingenfelter also stressed the importance of having working smoke detectors in all bedrooms and hallways and having carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home. Through a grant, Niskayuna Fire District 1 is able to install smoke detectors for free for individuals over the age of 65. Call the fire station at 518-374-8386 extension 1 to arrange installation.

Gazette reporter Kristin Schultz contributed to this report.

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