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February 5, 2013

Officials seek cause of Otego fire

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Fire and law enforcement investigators continued Monday to seek the cause of a fire that destroyed a vacant industrial building in Otego and whether the blaze was arson, an Otsego County official said.

The building at 58 River St. in Otego was destroyed in a fire reported at about 6:50 p.m. Saturday, officials said. Otego Fire Department crews were at the scene about 3½ hours and were assisted by Oneonta, Wells Bridge and Treadwell firefighters.

The building was fully ablaze when crews arrived, Otego Fire Chief J.R. Hurlburt said Sunday, and there was no chance that the 40 to 60 firefighters responding could save the structure.

No one was hurt, officials said, and the crews prevented the fire from spreading to nearby buildings, which had been a major concern.

“It was a pretty substantial fire,’’ Kevin Ritton, coordinator of the Otsego County Office of Emergency Services, said Monday. He, assistant coordinator Robert O’Brien and sheriff’s deputies were at the scene during the weekend and are conducting the investigation.

Deputies have interviewed neighbors in the area near the storage buildings about what they might have seen or heard, Ritton said, and investigators seek help from the public.

Anyone with information is asked to call the county Emergency Services Office at 547-4227, the sheriff’s office tip line at 547-1690, or contact deputies through email at Ritton contacts will be confidential.

The destroyed wood building was about 40 by 80 feet with an estimated 30-foot ceiling, Hurlburt said Sunday. The former Agway fertilizer blending plant had been vacant for 10 or 12 years, he said, and crews did a good job preventing wind-swept embers from igniting one of the nearby storage buildings.

Ritton estimated losses to at least $50,000 for the burned building, plus the cost of some office supplies. Canadian Pacific Rail owns the building, according to records in the Otsego County Clerk’s Office, he said.

The weather and a heating system have been ruled out as sources of ignition, Ritton said.

Investigators are checking with New York State Electric and Gas Corp. to confirm whether there was electrical service to the building, Ritton said. Other possible ignition sources are being considered, such as a dropped cigarette, he said, and accelerants.

Otsego County received three or four 911 calls reporting the fire, Ritton said, and officials are reaching out to those callers.

The fire could be seen from Interstate 88, Ritton said. A crew on a Canadian Pacific train passing through Otego did call 911 to report the blaze, he said, and officials are trying to contact the crew, which has traveled out of the area.

The building that burned was across the tracks from three storage buildings along Railroad Avenue, Ritton said, and the tracks were closed during part of the firefighters’ response.