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February 4, 2013

Officials rule Otego fire suspicious

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — A fire that destroyed a vacant industrial building in the village of Otego on Saturday is considered suspicious, the fire chief said Sunday.

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Otsego County fire coordinators and sheriff’s deputies were at the scene on Railroad Avenue on Sunday looking for clues, Otego Fire Department Chief J.R. Hurlburt said. No one was hurt in the incident, he said, and the fire at the Agway fertilizer blending plant was fully involved when crews arrived. It continued to rage and destroyed the building.

Otsego County received 911 calls reporting the fire, dispatchers said, and the Otego Fire Department was dispatched at 6:49 p.m. Saturday.

There was no chance of saving the building, Hurlburt said, and crews battled the blaze from the exterior of the structure.

The destroyed wood building was about 40 by 80 feet with an estimated 30-foot high ceiling, Hurlburt said. The building had been vacant for 10 or 12 years, he said, and the electrical power was off.

Investigators also were trying to identify the owner of property, which may be held by a local bank as a result of foreclosure, Hurlburt said. The plant had been used to mix fertilizer, which was sold to farmers, he said.

Between 40 and 60 firefighters at the scene were from Otego, Oneonta, Wells Bridge and Franklin fire departments, responding with about six engines and tankers, Hurlburt said. The crews ran hoses from hydrants and used about 70,000 gallons of water to put out the fire, he said.

With the wind, embers were flying and threatening another larger vacant storage building, Hurlburt said, but crews were successful in preventing the fire from spreading.

Hurlburt said the site of the fire has been among the department’s biggest concerns, prompting many discussions about responding and vulnerabilities in that Railroad Avenue area, including the three large, vacant buildings and their close proximity to residences.

The discussions included where to park trucks and the considerations of the water supply, Hurlburt said. Pre-planning was particularly important because the fire site wasn’t far from the station, which left little time en route to consider firefighting options, he said.

``The hardest ones to fight are the ones closest to the station,’’ Hurlburt said.

No residences had to be evacuated Saturday, Hurlburt said, but train traffic along the nearby railroad tracks was stopped for about three hours.

The burned building had contained some small amounts of fertilizer, he said, but the quantity wasn’t a concern and caused no explosions.

``It was a pretty good knock-down for the size of the building,’’ Hurlburt said.

Hurlburt said Scott Secor, assistant chief of the Otego Fire Department, was first on the scene and did a good job setting up water lines from hydrants. The stem of one hydrant later broke, Hurlburt said, and crews had to set up an alternative line, but there was plenty of water to battle the blaze.

Otego village public service and town highway department crews were working Sunday to replace the problematic hydrant, a job that may be finished today, Hurlburt said.

Otego crews were back in service at the station at 10:25 p.m. Saturday, dispatchers said.

Hurlburt said crews from West Oneonta, Unadilla and Treadwell were on standby.