Pre-Christmas Blaze Destroys Historic Garrison Home

Intense flames and heat a challenge for firefighters

By Michael Turton

The historic South Mountain Pass home of Nicholas Angell in Garrison was destroyed in a dramatic fire that began late on the night of Monday, Dec. 21. Jim Erickson, chief of the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company, said the seriousness of the blaze became evident as the initial, automatic alarm at 11:20 p.m. indicating a “kitchen fire” quickly escalated to a “heavy kitchen fire” within a matter of minutes. Erickson, one of the first on the scene, said that by the time he pulled up, the house was “completely involved.”

Erickson dispatched firefighters to enter the structure but he said that the heat was so intense that, once inside, they were unable to advance. “It was one of the oldest houses in the town,” he said, adding that the tinder wood frame undoubtedly contributed to the intensity of the blaze. “It was a very hot fire,” he said. The house, which included a rental apartment, dated to the 18th century.

No one was in the home by the time firefighters arrived. Erickson sustained the only injury when he was pinned between a boulder and a fire truck as he worked to set up a continuous loop of tanker trucks as part of his strategy for fighting the blaze. He suffered a broken finger and a cut to this hand that required 20 stitches but returned to the scene after receiving treatment at a hospital.

Someone had apparently entered the house in an attempt to put out the fire before GVFC arrived. Inside, a number of doors were left open, a factor Erickson said contributed to its ferocity. “Open doors between sections of the house allowed the fire to expand,” he said.

GVFC’s chief said other fire companies assisting at the scene included Cold Spring, North Highlands, Continental Village, Putnam Valley, Fort Montgomery and Croton. Other media reports indicated that firefighters from Mahopac Falls, Rombout, Duchess Junction and Buchanan also responded, along with New York State Police and a number of ambulance services.

A car was damaged but firefighters were able to save an outbuilding located within 15 to 20 feet of the house. Erickson said that building also dated to the 1700s. “We did what we’ve been trained to do,” he said. “We did our best.”

As many as 70 firefighters were at the scene at the height of the fire. Erickson said that most had departed by about 5 a.m. but that some GVFC volunteers remained until 1 p.m. the next day. Once they returned to their Route 9 fire house, firefighters still had to deal with storing equipment and tending to vehicles. Erickson said that for some it was a 17-hour call.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known. The Putnam County Fire Investigation Team is investigating but Erickson said the cause may never be determined due to its severity.

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