By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — Jason Layton of Pindars Corners said he had just put his 7-month-old son into a crib for a nap Friday morning when he heard a “pop,’’ then a sizzling sound.
In the adjacent living room, Layton said, he saw the Christmas tree engulfed in flames and rising smoke.
“I grabbed my son and went out the front door,’’ Layton said. “The flames were going up the tree and across the living room ceiling.’’
The fire spread and destroyed the two-story home at 1065 Delaware County Highway 11 in Davenport, where Jason and Lacey Layton lived with their son, Kale, and Jasmine Layton, 7. Also gone are their personal possessions, except belongings in their automobiles. A dog and cat escaped, but two dogs, four cats and many fish in tanks perished.
“We’re pretty beat and battered now — the only way to go is up,’’ Layton said Sunday. “My wife and kids are OK. … We’re a strong family, we’re starting to put the pieces back together.’’
On Sunday, Matthew Rittlinger, chief of the Pindars Corners Fire Department, said the cause of the fire remains under investigation, including whether the origin was electrical.
Pindars Corners crews were at the scene from about 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Rittlinger said, and the fire was under control at about 3 p.m. Between 30 and 40 firefighters responded to the scene, he said, and the daytime availability of volunteer crews and the location of the house near utility wires and trees added difficulty the response.
Ten other departments responded to the call, including Davenport, East Meredith, Meridale, Oneonta, West Oneonta, Schenevus, Otego, Stamford and Firefighter Assist and Search Teams from Franklin and Worcester. Crews used tanker shuttles and laid hose to get water to the house, Rittlinger said, and firefighters used Oneonta’s aerial truck.
The blaze inside the two-story home made the structure unsafe for entry, Rittlinger said. Cooperstown Medical Transport was at the scene, he said, but no one was injured.
Lacey Layton had unplugged the tree before going to work Friday as a substitute teacher at Charlotte Valley Central School in Davenport, Cheryl Amo, her mother, said Sunday. Amo said she heard that the fire started from an electrical outlet near the tree.
Lacey Layton had lived in the house for about six years and she married Jason a year ago Tuesday, Amo said, and the couple had some insurance. Representatives from the American Red Cross have spoken with the Laytons, Amo said.
Amo said she called the school Friday to let her daughter know about the fire, and Natalie Zimmerman, a relative who works as a secretary at the school, drove Lacey home and dropped off Jasmine, a second-grader, after school.
The Laytons’ house had to be knocked down, officials said.
Layton said after escaping through the front door, he dropped off his son with neighbors across the street and went back for two dogs that still were in the house. After re-entering the front door, he saw that the Christmas tree was blocking access to the kitchen where the two Labradors were in their crates, he said, and he tried to move the tree.
“By that time my eyes were watering, and I was starting to cough,’’ Layton said. “It was time to leave the house. … It was difficult.’’
Layton said he went to a second entrance that led to the kitchen but that door was locked. The Labradors, Sparkle and Zoey, died of smoke inhalation, he said.
On Sunday, Layton attributed his calm reaction in a life-threatening situation to Army experience, including two tours in Afghanistan.
Cheryl Amo said she took Sparkle to Dr. Joan Puritz before starting out for Cornell University veterinary hospital, but the dog’s lungs were too damaged, and she died. The cats that died were Gretchen, Leandra, Collista and Egan, Amo said.
Jaden, a Boxer mix, escaped with Jason Layton, Amo said, and a firefighter found another cat, Cookie.
Pastor Steve Estes of the West Davenport Free Baptist Church said the Laytons, a family more accustomed to giving than receiving, are overwhelmed by the response from the church and community. The church will continue receiving donations of cash and goods, said Estes, who is coordinating the effort. His telephone numbers are 432-7840 and 287-7914.
Layton said he went Sunday to his job as a machine operator at the Chobani yogurt plant in South Edmeston. The house may be gone, he said, but bills still have to be paid. He praised fire crews for their efforts.
“Our hearts go out to the firefighters who came down to help,’’ Layton said. “It means the world to us.”