Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell
THAT WAY: An unidentified firefighter from Smallwood/Mongaup Valley FD directs fellow firefighters to hot spots within this Smallwood house that went up in flames on Wednesday, displacing an entire family.
Fire Leaves Family Homeless
By Ted Waddell
SMALLWOOD May 19, 2000 -- Thank God no one was home, said Robert Yakin, Jr., chief of the White Lake Fire Department. If anybody had been in that house, it would have been a real disaster.
The early Wednesday afternoon blaze reduced an old farmhouse, located at 211 Sgt. Andrew Brucher Road (near the intersection of Lake Street Drive) in Smallwood, to a fire-gutted shell.
The house is reportedly owned by Patricia Grimm and was occupied by her elderly mother and four foster children, ranging in age from 10-17. No one was home when the fire broke out. The adults were reportedly out shopping, and the kids were at school.
When volunteer firefighters first arrived at the scene of the fully involved structure, they were told that the 70-year-old mother might still be in the house. According to Yakin, an unidentified volunteer firefighter from Liberty was driving along Route 17B when he saw the billowing smoke from the highway. Yakin said the firefighter was one of the first two firefighters to arrive at the scene, and after notifying the Sullivan County Emergency Control Center, unsuccessfully tried to gain entrance by kicking in a door.
Robin Kaylor of Smallwood was also driving along Rte. 17B at the time. When she saw the tower of smoke, she thought her nearby house was on fire.
When I got here, two guys were trying to kick in the doors, so I went around back and tried to kick open that door because I saw laundry lying all around and thought somebody was inside on the phone, she said. But I couldnt get it open because its an out-facing door.
According to Yakin, the blaze was called into the control center at 12:27 p.m. and was declared under control at about 1:30 p.m. Approximately 50 volunteer firefighters responded from White Lake and Smallwood/Mongaup Valley fire departments. Kauneonga Lake was on stand-by. MobileMedic also responded to the scene.
When the first apparatus arrived, flames were already shooting through the roof of the wood-frame, three-story farmhouse.
After the flames were knocked down, Yakin and fire determiners entered the burned-out shell to search for occupants. No one was found.
Yakin said the fire appeared to have been caused either by a lighted cigarette left on a couch or a recently re-wired television set. While still under investigation, authorities said the fire does not appear to be of suspicious origin.
It was fully involved when we got there, he said. There was fire in every room. It was a real tough fire, and it was real hard work. It was a real pain-in-the-ass fire.
We went through the house after the fire, and all we could salvage was about four drawers full of clothes and a few valuables. Those folks lost everything.
Yakin said one of the most painful moments occurred after the fire was extinguished.
Watching that little one [one of the foster children] get off the school bus and seeing his new home destroyed really got to us, he added. That little kid was scared to death. It was a tough call for everybody yesterday.
But, according to Greg Feicht, deputy commissioner of the Sullivan County Division of Health & Family Services, The kids are all safe and back in school.
He added that his agency has already found temporary housing for the children, pending a more permanent situation.