Million-dollar mansion reduced to rubble

— Photo by David Weiser

Up in flames: One of the first people to arrive on the scene, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Westmere Fire Department Chief David Weiser, captures the house on East Lydius Street ablaze from within. The home was already 50 percent consumed by the fire when help arrived, said Bill Fleming, Fort Hunter’s first assistant chief, the other person first on the scene.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Seventy-foot flames: From a neighbor’s yard, giant flames are seen licking the sky above the three-story, vacant house on East Lydius Street.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Badly needed water: The Rotterdam District 6 Fire Department arrives at the scene of the fire on East Lydius Street with a tanker of water, released into a drafting pool, to help the Fort Hunter Fire Department battle the mansion blaze on Tuesday from a safe distance.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Engulfed: At 1:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, just minutes after the fire call went out, a captain, wearing a yellow helmet, stares from behind the pine trees at the flames and smoke that rise high into the dark sky as a mansion on East Lydius Street burns. 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The burning building collapses behind firefighter from Fort Hunter at 1:50 a.m. Tuesday morning, as others look on.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Pine branches are silhouetted by flames over the roofline of an 11,000-square-foot, unoccupied home on East Lydius Street.

GUILDERLAND — An unoccupied 11,000-square-foot home on East Lydius Street burned beyond repair early Tuesday morning, and had to be demolished completely with a backhoe after the flames went out.

The call went out around 1:45 a.m., said Bill Fleming, the first assistant chief of the Fort Hunter Fire Department, who was among the first there.

“By the time I arrived at the scene, there was over 50-percent involvement,” he said.

The call came from a Colonie Police officer, who saw the smoke and flames at 3494 East Lydius Street from a distance.

“The flames were probably 70 to 80 feet in the air,” said Fleming, “but, the house sort of sat in a valley, so it took a while for anyone to notice the fire.”

He said the first thing he did when he arrived was check for vehicles outside the home, or for evidence that people were inside. He later found out the home had been vacant for some time.

The listing agent for the home, Richard Lyons at Prudential Manor Homes, told The Enterprise he did not want to comment, because the situation had been too upsetting to the seller.

The town of Guilderland’s 2013 assessment roll lists the property as belonging to William Selig and states its full-market value as $1,086,957.

“At this point, the structure was very unsafe, and my mindset was to put out the fire in a defensive mode,” said Fleming.

Fighting a fire in offensive mode, he explained, would mean an interior attack, to keep the burned area contained, but that is possible only when it is safe to put firefighters inside, which wasn’t the case on East Lydius Street.

Defensive mode, he said, means fighting the fire from a safe distance, and trying to keep it from spreading to neighboring buildings.

“Fortunately, because of the humidity and lack of wind, we were in a good position to keep it from spreading,” he said.

Many other local departments came to assist Fort Hunter in battling the blaze, including Westmere, Guilderland, Stanford Heights, Rotterdam District 6, Pine Grove, North Bethlehem, Altamont, and Guilderland Center.

Doris Selig, a member of the Guilderland Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, and a veteran photographer, who has documented firefighters battling blazes for decades, drove to the scene, and said as soon as she stepped out of her car she could see all of the trees outlined against the sky in red, the color of the flames.

“The property is set back so that you could really only see it through the trees,” said Selig, who is not related to the owner. “But, that just made it even more of a sight to see.”

The firefighters were doing the best job they could, she said, but, until more water was brought in, there was only so much to be done.

Fleming said 1,500 feet of hose were used to bring water to the scene, with a pumper truck placed at the fire hydrant down the street, and another tanker in front of the house. Tanker shuttles carrying extra water also arrived.

“I actually lost track of time,” said Fleming. “I think it probably took four or five hours to get things under control.”

Once the wooden parts of the structure “burnt off,” he said, the remaining brick walls were unstable, and a safety hazard.

“Safety was my number one priority,” said Fleming. “We had over 80 firefighters at the scene and not one injury.”

“The whole incident is under investigation,” said Fleming yesterday, by the town of Guilderland Office of Fire Prevention and Inspection.

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