TUPPER LAKE - Fire investigators picked through the charred debris of Peter Boushie's log house this afternoon, trying to determine what triggered the intense blaze that left it in ruins.
The fire was first reported to the Tupper Lake Police Department around 8:35 a.m. by a passerby who said they saw "a lot of smoke" coming from the Mitchell Lane area, according to village Police Chief Tom Fee. Fee and several Tupper Lake firefighters were the first people on the scene.
"The building was fully engulfed in flames," Fee said. "I knew it was bad. I know Mr. Boushie and was relieved to see that his truck wasn't there."
Firefighters douse burned house.
"It was just smoke and flames," said Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department Lt. David Maroun, the first firefighter to arrive at the blaze. "The roof was already caved in. It must have been burning for a long time."
Both Fee and Maroun said the heat from the fire was intense. It melted the front end of a Boushie Floor Service van parked next to the house and the tail light of a pickup truck about 20 feet away. Plastic garbage cans in the yard had also partially melted.
Maroun said they couldn't get any closer than 50 feet from the structure.
Firefighters douse a burned house in Tupper Lake today.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"The windows were snapping - the glass was breaking," Fee said. "I've seen a lot of fires; this was hot."
Forced to keep their distance, Maroun said they had to wait for fire trucks to arrive. Getting water to the scene was also an issue, he said, since the closest fire hydrant was at the intersection with Main Street (state Route 3).
"We ended up pulling out water beds, and we had trucks coming in and shuttling water," Maroun said. "We called for backup from Saranac Lake and Piercefield. It was surround and drown."
Volunteers were able to keep the blaze from spreading to a pair of neighboring homes, each about 50 to 75 feet away.
More than three hours after the fire was first reported, firefighters were still pouring water and foam on the smoldering debris, trying to extinguish any hot spots. Although charred sections of its walls were still standing, the structure is considered a total loss.
"By the time I got here, it was already on the ground," said Tupper Lake Fire Chief Mark Picerno. "Any type of log or wooden structure like this catches immediately and it goes, especially if nobody sees it, especially in a desolate area back here."
Picerno said Boushie had left home earlier in the day and that no one was in the house at the time of the blaze. One Tupper Lake firefighter, whom Picerno declined to name, slipped and fell on the ice, injured his leg and was taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.
A visibly upset Boushie stopped by the scene around 11:30 a.m. to survey the damage. He declined to speak to the Enterprise.
A Franklin County Cause and Origin Team lead by investigator Andy McGill was called in to probe the cause of the blaze.
"They're going to conduct the investigation and let us know what they find, if anything," Picerno said. "Usually when a structure like this burns the way it did and went down to the ground, sometimes you'll find nothing and you won't ever know."
At noon, McGill was still waiting for firefighters to finish their work so he could get a closer look at the debris.
"It's too early to guess what might be going on yet," he said. "When you have this kind of a fire, it makes it harder because everything is buried and you've got to go searching around and digging."
McGill said the log home was one-story with what he believed was a large loft. It also had a basement and a porch.
Volunteer firefighters from Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake responded to the scene with trucks and manpower. The Piercefield Volunteer Fire Department stood by at the Tupper Lake fire station. A tanker truck from Lake Placid was called to the scene. Firefighters from Long Lake also responded but were sent back before they arrived.
Picerno said it was a "phenomenal effort" by all those involved.
"Between the police department and the fire departments from the area and EMS - you just don't come in here and put out a fire by yourself," he said. "In a rural area like this, you've got to have as much help as you've got to call in."
Picerno said some of his department's volunteers were released from work at Sunmount and area prisons to respond to the fire.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Look for a longer version of this story in tomorrow's Enterprise.