By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO June 28, 2005 A furious fire swept through the Sullivan County Attorneys office and two neighboring offices in the Sullivan County Government Center Thursday evening, blowing out windows, causing thousands of dollars in damage and closing down all offices in the building for the last two business days.
The fire is believed to have began around 8 p.m. in the county attorneys office approximately one-half-hour after Sullivan County Attorney Sam Yasgur left for the day.
The Monticello Fire Department responded immediately after a call was put out to them at 8:12 p.m. They had the fire out by about 8:30.
Ironically, the fire occurred on the same day that an intense hearing on the Sullivan County Department of Public Works scandal took place in the adjacent Legislative Hearing Room (which suffered water damage).
An investigation is currently ongoing and involves the New York State Police, the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department, the Sullivan County District Attorneys Office, the Sullivan County Arson Task Force and the Sullivan County Bureau of Fire.
None of the county officials involved in the investigation are commenting on it or whether it appears to be leaning towards a criminal action or not.
Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen and Sullivan County Sheriffs Detective Don Starner would not talk about the status of the investigation. Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue did not return a call for comment.
Officials from the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department met with Lungen on Monday morning.
According to Sullivan County Commissioner of Public Safety Richard Martinkovic, two K-9 dogs from the NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control were sniffing through the county attorneys office on Friday.
That office was hit the hardest, and nearly everything was believed to be lost. The audit room and public safety room next door, belonging to Martinkovic, was severely damaged.
The fire extended up to the ceiling of the offices and down to the floor. Broken glass was scattered throughout all of the offices. The county attorneys office had a number of computers, desks, files, a law library and other documents throughout the office. The main office also included the offices of the two assistant county attorneys Cheryl McCausland and Lynda Levine.
It is not known how the damage will affect their major ongoing investigation into the corruption inside the Sullivan County Department of Public Works or the upcoming issues conference on the countys proposed Phase 2 expansion of the Sullivan County Landfill. That hearing was scheduled for this week but has been cancelled and rescheduled for Monday, August 2, from 1 to 5 p.m. and Tuesday, August 3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Martinkovic said he lost his computer, printer, fax machine and personal items, including certificates, awards and family pictures.
I feel violated, he said.
The Monticello Fire Department was the first to respond. They were assisted by Rock Hill and Smallwood/Mongaup Valley fire departments. Liberty and Wurtsboro were on standby.
Water damage extended to Sullivan County Clerk George Cookes office on the lower floor. Cooke said there was a lot of water damage. Some records incurred significant damage, but most of the documents are backed up on microfilm. The documents date back to the 1840s.
Seven cleaning workers were verified as being inside the building at the time, and nobody was injured. The Sullivan County Sheriffs Department interviewed all of them.
The effects of the fire were still being felt on Friday. Ceiling tiles were removed and scrubbed. The floors were scrubbed as the center was being aired out.
On Friday, a heavy amount of smoke could still be smelled throughout the building. An environmental doctor is monitoring the air quality.
According to Martinkovic, over 100 contractors are working throughout the Government Center, cleaning up the mess.
No assessment of all the damage has been conducted. The fire will be covered by the countys insurance, but the county will likely pay a deductible, said Martinkovic.
Martinkovic and Sullivan County Manager Dan Briggs were set to meet late yesterday afternoon to decide whether to open up the building on Tuesday.