Man who died in Saranac Lake apartment fire identified

The back of 11 Elm St. is pictured here on Monday, the day after a fatal fire there. Tenants said they believe that the fire started near the rear of the building on the second floor. (Enterprise photo — Sydney Emerson)

SARANAC LAKE — The man who died in an apartment building fire on Elm Street Sunday has been identified as Michael Simmons.

Simmons lived in the building. His cause of death remains unclear. An autopsy will be scheduled for later this week in Glens Falls, according to Saranac Lake Police Chief Darin Perrotte. Perrotte said the fire started in Simmons’ apartment.

Seven residents, including two children ages 12 and 17, lost their homes in the structure fire at 11 Elm St. in Saranac Lake Sunday morning. Two cats also died in the blaze and an additional two cats are missing. One is a black and white male cat named Bootz and the other is a black and gray tabby male cat named Tom Tom.

The extent of the damage to 11 Elm St. is unclear, though Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brendan Keough said it was “pretty significant,” with both smoke and water damage. Firefighters were on the scene for almost 10 hours, checking to make sure no fire remained in the attic and in spaces in the three layers of roofing.

Keough said the fire was first reported to authorities by a tenant of the building.

The cause and origin of the fire are under investigation by members of the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control and Saranac Lake village police. The Office of Fire Prevention and Control did not respond to a request for comment by deadline Monday. Perrotte said the fire’s origin has not been determined yet, but it appears to not be suspicious.

“That’s going to take a while to work out,” Keough said.

The displaced residents of the apartment building are being assisted by the American Red Cross of Eastern New York. Perrotte said some are living with friends and family.

Displaced families

Samantha Stewart, who lived at 11 Elm St. with her two sons, was at work when the fire broke out.

“I work overnights at a local hotel and my kids were home,” she said. “My middle son was watching my younger one, and they were playing some games and he saw smoke coming from the floor, the bottom of the wall, and he thought the fire was starting from underneath (our apartment). So he got my other son and my cat out.”

The family shared a wall with the apartment where the fire is thought to have started. Stewart’s sons were able to get out safely before firefighters arrived. Other residents were evacuated by first responders. By the time she arrived on the scene, Elm Street was already shut down.

Stewart said she is unsure what the condition of her apartment is.

“As far as I know, nobody’s allowed in the building, so they won’t let me go in and see,” she said. “Somebody told me that my windows are open, that they were spraying water on it.”

McClatchie said he started letting people in to retrieve personal items on Monday. He said the building likely won’t be able to be restored.

“It’s in pretty bad shape,” he said.

Stewart added that she has not heard from her landlord as of Monday morning, but she hopes she gets her next month’s rent back, which she had just paid before the fire.

Stewart’s sister started a GoFundMe campaign to help the family get back on their feet and secure a new apartment. That can be viewed at tinyurl.com/yndse29v.

Sami Rawdon has also started a GoFundMe for her aunt Wanda Callaghan at tinyurl.com/3dpfm7f4. Rawdon said Callaghan’s cats are Callie and Tom Tom.

“Anyone who knows my aunt knows she would give the clothes off her back to help those in need,” Rawdon wrote. “Please help this loving woman get her own home again so she can start feeling normal.”

Tanya Cassavaugh started a GoFundMe for her friends Kayla Harris and Danny Plowe at http://tinyurl.com/y2y56wpc. Harris and Plowe lost one cat, Hazel, in the fire. Their other cat, Bootz, is still missing as of Tuesday morning.

Cassavaugh wrote that Harris and Plowe were “blindsided” by the loss of their apartment.

“They were able to recover some of their belongings, but most of their things were unsalvageable — either from heat damage, smoke damage and water damage,” she wrote.

Another GoFundMe has been created to benefit resident Amy Garrand, who works as a housekeeper at the Saranac Lake Best Western. The campaign was created by Prestige Hospitality Group, the company that manages the hotel, and can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/ysp5u4w6.

Bob Decker, who owns the apartment building, said he hasn’t slept since the fire.

“It’s a very tragic scenario for everybody,” Decker said.

“I want to thank the fire department for doing such a great job,” he added.

Decker said he mourned for Simmons and his family.

“He was a good friend of mine,” Decker said. They had just spoken a few hours before the fire.

“It’s just, it’s terrible,” he added.

Decker said Simmons had several health issues and though he believes he should have been in more managed care for them, he was friends with everyone who lived in the building and wanted to stay.

“He was very likeable,” Decker said, adding that the tenants were like a community.

Decker said he’s unsure of what will happen with the building. That’s up to the building inspector. But he also said he plans to hand his rentals over to a property management company very soon. He said he’s 72 and can’t deal with this anymore. He said the fire puts him in a bad light as the landlord and that people are blaming him for it. Decker said he never wanted something like this to happen.

Decker told the Enterprise that the building had just been inspected a week before.

“He had just inspected it,” Decker said of Village Code Enforcement Officer Chris McClatchie. “Ironically, it had just been inspected like a week before for the smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.”

McClatchie said this is only partially true.

“I’ve been trying to get in a lot of them for a while,” McClatchie said of the apartments.

Asked about this, Decker said, “I’m not going to argue about it. He was there. … I’m not putting him in a bad spot. All I said was that he didn’t inspect the whole building, that he only inspected part of it.”

McClatchie said he inspected the smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the staircase and basement of the building in November. But he couldn’t get access into the apartments.

“People got rights, man,” he said.

McClatchie said his records show the last time that building was inspected was in 2016. He said that apartment buildings are supposed to be inspected every three years.

This is a widespread problem throughout the village, he said, and he’s been trying to catch up on late inspections since he came into the role in 2022. But it’s hard to get compliance, he said. He can’t just go in because they are private properties, and often people don’t want him to come in because that means they’d have to leave their apartments and there aren’t many other available places to live in town.

McClatchie said there were smoke alarms and extinguishers on the side of the building he saw, which was not as damaged by the fire. On the side where the fire started, it’s hard to tell because everything is destroyed, he said. He’s heard conflicting accounts from tenants, but he isn’t yet sure himself.

This is a breaking news story. More details will be added as they become available.


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