2012-06-14 / Front Page
Firefighters Battle Massive Fire in Brewster
UPDATED Saturday morning
Motorists traversing Route 22 in Brewster never experienced such a day as last Friday when a troublesome fire at Uncle Bob’s Self Storage facility that kept firefighters busy for 15 hours forced the closing of the heavily traveled road from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
One hundred members of emergency services agencies from Putnam County were assisted by crews from northern Westchester, southern Dutchess and western Fairfield counties throughout the day in battling the stubborn and smoky blaze that destroyed two dozen units.
Brewster Fire Chiefs Dave O’Hara and Bill Reig were incident commanders.
O’Hara said fire crews used an exterior attack that he called “labor intensive. No way were we going to let our people inside that building or on top of the metal roof, fearing they would fall through.”
While the cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Putnam Fire Investigation Team, Reig said welding repairs were being carried out on a rear storage building: “One of the employees smelled smoke and walked through a common hallway and observed a drop ceiling on fire.”
Touring the exterior of the 375-foot-long building as firefighters used hoses to spray tens of thousands of gallons of water on the inferno, burned out hulks of cars and boats were visible. Chief Rieg said what made the fire so dangerous was that crews didn’t know what each unit contained: “There are different situations. Some contained clothing and furniture, books and personal memorabilia but others could have been filled with gas, propane or other flammable liquids. A firefighter never knows at a scene like this.”
O’Hara was thankful that none of the firefighters suffered any injury during the tedious battle.
Heavy choking smoke made the attack extremely dangerous for firefighting personnel. Employees and shoppers at the Value Village Shopping Center across the street were also amazed by the fire’s ferocity.
Jesus Martinez, a worker at the Splash Car Wash, said he couldn’t believe his eyes when “all of a sudden a cloud of smoke covered the entire road. It was so bad you couldn’t see a thing or even breathe.”
Roberto Jackson of Carmel stopped off at Bernie’s Deli to get a cup of coffee around 7:30 a.m. Jackson said when he went inside “everything was cool but when I came out five minutes later, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Fire departments from Carmel, Lake Carmel, Putnam Lake, Patterson, Kent, Mahopac, Putnam Valley and Mahopac Falls assisted their neighbors in Brewster for hours.
They were assisted by crews from as far away as Dover Plains and East Fishkill in Dutchess, Mt. Kisco, South Salem and Croton Falls in Westchester and from Danbury, New Fairfield and Bethel in Connecticut.
Traffic in the area was a nightmare with Route 22 closed from Route 312 to Doansburg Road, forcing vehicles to be detoured along Route 312, Farm to Market Road and Foggintown Road past the Brewster School campus. It one man 30 minutes to make the normal 6-minute trip from Route 22 to Brewster High School.
Traffic was backed up along Route 22 onto Route 684 to the south and to Patterson to the north for most of the day.
At 5 a.m. Saturday the fire rekindled and Brewster and Putnam Lake fire crews returned to the scene to further extinguish the smoldering remains.
Uncle Bob’s manager Matt Freehill said 900 storage units were located on the premises in two metal construction type buildings. Freehill urged customers not to visit the site for at least a couple of days: “We have to get things sorted out.”
Also assisting at the scene were members of the Putnam Sheriff’s Department, Brewster State Police, Putnam Deputy Commissioner of Emergency Services Ron Davies, Putnam Commissioner of Highways and Facilities Fred Pena, members of the Putnam County Fire Police Team, NYS Highway Department personnel and a representative of the Putnam Bureau of Emergency Services.