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Arsonist Destroys 130-Year-Old Historic Building in Greenwich

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February 06, 2022 | NEW YORK JEFFREY BELSCHWINDER, Senior Correspondent
This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

GREENWICH, NY - On February 6th at 12:12 P.M., the Washington County Emergency Communication Center began to receive numerous 911 calls for a heavily involved structure fire at 126 Main Street.

The Greenwich FD along with Eastern Greenwich EMS were immediately dispatched to the scene. Heavy fire pushed from a three-story, multi-occupancy building, and the thick and heavy black smoke could be seen from up to 30 miles away.

After EMS unit 3288 notified the dispatcher that he had heavy fire showing from multiple stories of the building, the dispatcher transmitted the working fire notification. The first arriving chief on scene immediately transmitted a third-alarm as he had a well involved three-story ordinary type construction building with heavy fire on the second, third, and fourth floors, and fire through the roof of the building. The third-alarm brought in Schuylerville, Cambridge, Hartford, Easton, Fort Edward, Kingsbury, Salam, Johnsonville, Cossayuna, and the Argyle Fire Departments to the scene.

The first arriving engine pulled past the structure and deployed a master stream along with multiple hand lines to the front of the building. The first arriving truck company arrived on scene and laid in their supply line from the nearest fire hydrant and began to put their ladder company in master stream operations. Additional truck companies arrived and began to take up positions around the building, going into aerial operations.

Firefighters made their way to the roof of the attached structure next door and checked for extension as they had smoke pushing from the eaves of the building. As heavy fire continued to travel throughout the building, the police department began receiving information that an individual had jumped from the back of the building and took off in a westerly direction. With a heavy fire load throughout the structure command switched to a full defensive operation in the main fire building. Crews made their way into the antique shop located next door and checked the roof area of the structure for any fire that may have traveled through a common space.

As firefighters worked to knock down the heavy fire load with master stream operations from the truck company, a large boom occurred inside the building and the upper floors began to collapse to the second floor. Crews immediately moved their operations back and set up a collapse zone.

Firefighters continued to spray water into the building as freezing temperatures were setting in, causing the overspray to turn to ice and begin coating the roadway, power lines, sidewalks, and other parts of the fire ground.

National Grid cut power to over 200 customers around the fire scene so crews could operate safely on scene. Firefighters continued to conduct master stream operations into the late evening hours. A decision was made to bring in an excavator to tear down the building, as it was deemed structurally unsafe. Firefighters remained on scene for over 12 hours before going back in service.

The Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department immediately began an investigation due to a building that size being that well involved before the fire department arrived on scene. Witnesses told police they saw a subject jump out of a second-story window and take off on foot after the fire broke out. The Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department, with assistance from Washington County Sheriff's office K9 units and NYS Police, were able to locate the subject that witnesses described, and upon further investigation, 48-year-old John M. Fox of California was arrested and charged with Arson in the 2nd Degree, Criminal Mischief in the 2nd Degree, and Reckless Endangerment in the 1st Degree.

The heinous crime committed by this arsonist destroyed a piece of history in the village of Greenwich. The Wilmarth building was built in 1892 and was one of the oldest standing buildings in the downtown area of the village of Greenwich. The building housed multiple commercial occupancies and numerous apartments.

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