Spring Valley Fire Inspector Frank Youngman said the occupants where Wednesday’s fire began attempted to put it out themselves before calling the fire department. He said the four or five people in Unit 32 of the tried to extinguish the mid morning fire that resulted in 13 garden apartments being declared uninhabitable.
Youngman said the cause of the fire is unknown at this time and that it could take seven to 10 days to determine.
“It’s still under investigation,” he said. “We do not believe it to be suspicious.”
He said there were several people in the apartment when the fire alarm went off and they attempted to put out the flames. Windows were open in a bedroom, which provided oxygen to fuel the fire.
“The fire got a good head start before the fire department (arrived),” Youngman said.
The section of the building damaged by the fire is being evaluated. There are approximately 30 units in that building and there is a second apartment building in the complex on East Funston Ave.
Residents of the second building were allowed to return to their apartments by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday after utility service was restored. It had been turned off as a precaution during the fire. Tenants of Units 1 through 19 in the fire-damaged structure were permitted to go into their apartment around 8:30 p.m.
As of the evening, an estimated 55 people were displaced by the fire. The met with 42 of them at the shelter it established at Spring Valley High School. Michael de Vulpillieres, communications officer for the Greater New York Region, said volunteers assisted residents from 10 apartments. They included 25 adults and 17 children.
Three of the displaced residents slept at the shelter. The majority of residents stayed with family and friends. He said the management company that owns the Raymond Castle complex is working on putting people into vacant apartments. Because of the small number of people using the shelter, it has transitioned to a reception center.
“Case workers, mental health workers will be staffing the reception center,” de Vulpillieres said. “We don’t envision that many requiring housing.”
The reception center will remain open until 5 p.m. or later depending upon the need. It will provide emotional support, lunch and snacks. The Rockland County Social Services Department is assisting as well and working with residents to provide them with furniture and bedding.
de Vulpillieres said the volunteers are there to provide assistance.
“Do they have a place to stay? Do they want to talk with one of our mental health professionals that are there?”
To assist residents affected by incidents like this and make a donation, go to the American Red Cross website: www.nyredcross.org. To donate $10 to the Red Cross, text the words "Red Cross" to 90999.
Rockland County Fire Coordinator Gordon Wren said the location made it especially challenging for firefighters.
“It was very difficult to fight a fire there,” he said. “The accessibility was very difficult. You had a large volume of fire. The battle plan was to cut the fire off. They saved over half of the units. They did cut the fire off."
Wren said fire hoses were run through a courtyard and because of the heat and humidity firefighters were rotated every 20 to 30 minutes. The Spring Hill Ambulance Corps coordinated a rehab area for firefighters to cool off, get water and have their vital signs checked before returning to fight the fire.
The fire, which was reported shortly after 10:30 a.m., took about two and a half hours to extinguish. Thirteen fire departments and more than 100 firefighters responded to the incident.