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Flames in the night

Massive inferno devours St. Peter’s School

by Jesse J. Smith
December 23, 2010 02:21 PM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Firefighters grapple with the blaze.
Firefighters grapple with the blaze.
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A fire tore through an historic former Catholic school in Kingston’s Rondout neighborhood Tuesday night, derailing plans to reopen the long vacant building as a community center.

The blaze at the former St. Peter’s Catholic School on Adams Street broke out around 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 21 and quickly went to three alarms. According to Fire Chief Rick Salzmann, the fire started in the attic of the two-story stone building and spread swiftly to engulf the roof.

“The fire was already through the roof when we arrived,” said Salzmann.

Flames lit up the sky over the Rondout for hours while firefighters used ladder trucks to battle the blaze from outside the building. Salzmann said that firefighters entered the building and tried to knock down the fire from the inside. But, he said, it became apparent that the fire had spread too far for firefighters’ safety and teams were ordered out of the building.

The school is on one of the city’s narrowest streets with houses clustered tightly around it. Salzmann said that residents of some neighboring houses were temporarily evacuated during the fire, but firefighters were able to contain the fire to the school building. One firefighter suffered a foot injury. He was treated at Kingston Hospital and released, Salzmann said.

According to Salzmann, the fire was brought under control by 12:30 a.m. But firefighters were still on the scene at 10:30 Wednesday morning, working to extinguish stubborn pockets of fire beneath portions of the roof which had collapsed. Despite heavy damage to the roof and attic, Salzmann said, the lower floors sustained only water damage and the building appeared structurally sound. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, the chief said.

The devastating fire occurred as a year-long $2 million renovation project was nearing completion. The project was funded with a grant from the state Dormitory Authority. Plans called for the renovated building to house a food pantry and office space for Catholic Charities, a Catholic Youth organization sports program and a head start program for the families of migrant and seasonal farm workers. Contractors on the renovation project who were on the scene Wednesday said that work on the project was just days from completion.

Mary Ellen Ros, director of Catholic Charities for the Hudson Valley, said that it was too soon to tell whether the plan could move forward following the fire.

“This was such a wonderful opportunity for the community to take an unused building and turn it around to be a fabulous resource for the community,” said Ros.
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