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Fire claims 4 White Pine Camp buildings

No injuries; cause still under investigation

Firefighters from multiple departments move water from a pumper truck, into a vat, into water lines which were used to fight the fire at White Pine Camp on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

PAUL SMITHS — Four buildings were lost in a fire that tore through the rental-unit portion of the historic White Pine Camp Sunday, but quick action from eight fire departments and two Lake Placid residents celebrating their anniversary kept the blaze injury-free and stopped it from spreading to more buildings.

Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tom Tucker said his department was assisted by the Owls Head, Duane, St. Regis Falls, Bloomingdale, Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid departments, and that a bunch of other departments came in to fill in for those while they were battling the fire.

Franklin County and state fire investigators are looking into the cause of the fire and said they hope to have a result in the next few days. Franklin County Emergency Services Coordinator Ricky Provost said the state gets involved in investigations of “major fires.”

Tucker said the fire, which was called in at around 7 p.m. Sunday, was not extinguished until around 2:30 a.m. Monday. He said they were pumping water from both sides of the fire, drawing from Osgood Pond and from pumper trucks, which were driving back and forth down White Pine Road with more water.

“It was pretty remote, pretty isolated, very limited access,” Tucker said.

Fire breaks out Sunday evening at the historic White Pine Camp in Paul Smiths. (Provided photo —Amy Fisher Quinn)

He said four buildings were a “total loss.”

White Pine Camp, which is located on the shore of Osgood Pond, was built in 1908 by New York banker Archibald White and has had several owners, including Paul Smith’s College. It was visited by the rich and famous over the years, and in 1926 it was the Summer White House for Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, who served from 1923-29.

Despite being tucked away in the woods, its facilities include a bowling alley, tennis court and Japanese tea house, as well as beach and boathouse.

Anniversary surprise

Flames shoot up as the fire at the historic White Pine Camp starts to spread on Sunday evening. (Provided photo — Amy Fisher Quinn)

Amy and Andrew Quinn, the owner of Desperados Restaurant in Lake Placid, were celebrating their 23rd anniversary at the White Pine Camp Sunday. Amy had never been, but Andrew, a Paul Smith’s College graduate, said he remembers surveying the property as a student back in 1983.

They were staying in the center cabin in a row of service buildings that had been converted into rental units. Amy said they had finished cooking steaks on a charcoal grill outside when Andrew heard a noise. Amy said she didn’t think anything of it, but Andrew, a 25-year veteran of the Keene Valley Fire Department, knew exactly what it was.

“He said, ‘You never forget that sound,'” Amy said.

Andrew went outside and saw flames coming out the windows of the workshop building, behind the row rental units. Amy said he looked inside but saw accelerants, so he got out of there.

Fire fully engulfs a building at the historic White Pine Camp in Paul Smiths Sunday. (Provided photo — Bloomingdale Fire Department Facebook page)

Amy said Andrew began knocking on their neighbor’s doors, telling them to leave, while she called 911 and grabbed an armload of belongings they had brought for their three-night trip.

When she got back out, Andrew asked if she had the car keys. She did not. Andrew said he believed he had enough time to go back in, but she was worried about him.

He got the keys, but the buildings caught fire fast. Amy said Andrew told her he had never seen fire spread that fast.

Amy said the experience was “upsetting” and “surreal,” but she feels “blessed” that it was not worse than it was.

“Things can change fast,” she said. “It’s just really weird to look at pictures of when you were eating your dinner or reading a book 30 minutes before, and now it’s fully engulfed.”

She praised the fire departments, saying the PSGVFD was on the scene within 10 minutes and that their job is often undervalued.

(Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that Andrew Quinn is a 25-year veteran of the Keene Valley Fire Department, not a 30-year veteran of the Keene department. The Enterprise regrets the error.)

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