By Paul Hemmer
HANKINS March 19, 2004 The River Inn, a longtime Hankins landmark, was destroyed by fire on Wednesday.
Firefighters from Hankins-Fremont Center, Callicoon, Hortonville and Jeffersonville fought to contain the burning structure, which was just yards away from the Hankins Garage on Route 97.
The call came in around 10 a.m. summoning the Hankins-Fremont Center Fire Department to the scene.
North Branch Fire Chief George Conklin, who lives just up the street from the River Inn, was alerted to the call and went to investigate.
"When I got here, smoke was pouring out of the front of the building, and flames were rolling out of the upstairs windows," Conklin said. "I called the 911 Center to advise them that Hankins had a working structure fire on their hands, and then I made my way inside to see if anyone was in the building.
"I looked all through the first floor, then tried but couldnt get upstairs," he said. "It didnt seem like anyone was home, so I decided to get back out."
On the way out, Conklin ran across a dog in the first floor apartment and took the animal with him as he exited the building.
Hankins-Fremont Centers first arriving engines and firefighters stretched lines to the building, and soon thereafter, an engine and ladder from Callicoon arrived on the scene, along with two engines from Hortonville and a tanker/mini-pumper and rescue from Jeffersonville.
With flames and heavy smoke billowing through the roof, firefighters made an aggressive attack on the structure but were forced to stay outside due to the extensive fire damage and questionable structural integrity of the building.
Route 97 and the Norfolk-Southern rail line across the street were closed to traffic for several hours.
None of the people who lived in the apartments in the one-time bar and inn were home at the time the fire broke out.
As he watched firefighters carry out belongings from the charred remains of his familys home, Jason Fuller, son of River Inn owners Don and Theresa Fuller, said that his parents were in New Jersey on business but had been alerted to the situation and were on their way back.
Of the three apartments in the building, only two were occupied at the time of the fire. According to Fuller, Willard Sheppard III had just vacated the upstairs apartment within the last two weeks, and Joe Lake and Nicole Houghtaling occupied the downstairs front apartment.
The only injury at the fire occurred when Nicole Houghtalings aunt, Andrea Milucky, attempted to recover her nieces dog, which had been rescued earlier by North Branch Chief George Conklin. Apparently the dog, frightened by his ordeal, bit Houghtaling on the face as she attempted to secure him.
Members of the Upper Delaware First Aid Corps, who were also on the scene, transported Houghtaling to Catskill Regional Medical Centers Grover Hermann Division in Callicoon, where she was treated for superficial puncture wounds and released.
Firefighters remained on the scene for most of the day as an excavator from Ken Redard Inc. was called in to assist with reaching stubborn hotspots in the burned out shell. Firefighters from North Branch, Long Eddy and Equinunk, Pa. were on standby duty during the fire, and Battalion Coordinator Tom Totten assisted at the scene.
Fire Investigators from the Sullivan County Bureau of Fire were requested to determine the cause of the blaze, which is still under investigation.
The Red Cross is assisting the displaced families.
Firefighters had to return to the ruined structure yesterday morning to extinguish a rekindling, but the decades-old building has been demolished.