By Susan Monteleone
NARROWSBURG July 23, 2002 One of the worst fires that a fireman can respond to is one with exploding paint cans, thinner, oxygen tanks, gasoline, and live wires laying on the ground. And on Friday numerous firefighters were met with just that.
According to police, a small thunder storm worked its way for an hour through the Town of Tusten that day. Lightning hit Cortese Auto Body Shop on Route 97 in Narrowsburg, burning the 1958 building to the ground.
Co-owner Vasa Mohan and wife Debbie of Pond Eddy were working at Cortese Auto Body at the time, while a fellow worker ran an errand to Middletown. The storm came in fast with strong winds, heavy rains and numerous lightning bolts, along with intense rain.
A by-stander who was near the shop, saw the double bolt of lightning hit the building, and immediately told Vasa and Debbie to get out. Within minutes, the two were out by the street, and their beloved shop was in flames. Deep, black smoke poured out from the burning building as the rain continued to fall.
The Lava Fire Department was immediately dispatched to the scene, along with Narrowsburg, Lake Huntington, Cochecton, Welcome Lake, pa., Beach Lake, pa. and Yulan. The Tusten Ambulance Corps and the New York State Police were also on the scene.
On stand-by were White Mills, Pa. for Narrowsburg, Callicoon for Cochecton, Kauneonga Lake for Lake Huntington and Highland for Yulan.
Upon arrival to the five-alarm fire, firefighters faced exploding chemicals inside the building and intense heat. Cars parked outside suffered blown-out glass, blistered paint and melted bumpers and tail lights. the intense heat could be felt all the way across the street in a nearby field.
The fire started around 3 p.m. and was quickly brought under control without spreading to a nearby NYSEG substation or two neighboring houses. Firemen were on the scene until 6:30 p.m. that evening.
Inside the shop at the time was a school bus the that had just been painted and was waiting for pick up, a tow truck and two cars, along with numerous tools and equipment.
Co-owner Shawn Mohan, who reached the scene as the fire was nearly out, was speechless and in tears as he saw the burned remains of his building.
I just cannot believe that this has happened, he said.
Lava Fire Chief George Strumpfler noted, The Cortese Body Shop has been here for over 50 years, and it is a town landmark. It is a business that will truly be missed until they hopefully will be able to rebuild it.
A church in the Town of Tusten was also hit by lightning, but no damage occurred.