By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO A potentially disastrous fire was quickly extinguished by firefighters on Wednesday, but it still forced residents of Monticello’s Sleepy Hollow Apartments to run for their lives.
Some even had to jump out of second-story windows, said Acting Police Chief Mark Johnstone.
“It had the potential of being really bad,” he acknowledged.
But in the end, no one was injured in a blaze that destroyed six apartments at the Sleepy Hollow complex, located next door to the Monticello High School off Route 42.
“The fire department was great. They were there right away,” said Johnstone. “It was just a good response by everybody.”
Monticello, Forestburgh, Hurleyville and the Town of Liberty FAST Team (the Liberty, White Sulphur Springs and Swan Lake FDs) responded, along with MobileMedic, the Monti PD, the Sheriff’s Office and the State Police.
Arriving shortly after the 1:34 p.m. 911 call, they found the top two floors of the three-story apartment building billowing smoke, with flames shooting out through broken windows.
An initial fear that people were trapped inside proved unfounded, as residents had already run or leapt their way out of the complex, said Monticello Fire Chief Marc Friedland.
Less than an hour later, firefighters had extinguished the blaze, and investigators were digging through the soot.
They quickly discovered the fire began in a second-floor storage room and that it wasn’t electrical in cause.
“We’re treating it as suspicious right now,” Johnstone confirmed. “... We’ve had issues with people smoking marijuana in rooms in the past.”
Arson hasn’t been ruled out, either, and the investigation continues by the police and the county’s Bureau of Fire.
“It’s going to take a little while,” Johnstone said. “We may never know.”
In the meantime, five families have been displaced, said Monticello Building Inspector James Snowden.
Six apartments in the 12-unit building have been condemned as temporarily uninhabitable due to smoke and water damage.
“The second and first floors are going to have to be totally gutted,” Snowden observed.
Residents have been given shelter by the Red Cross.