A man pretending to be a medieval blacksmith started a multiple-alarm fire in upstate New York, which damaged or destroyed 32 buildings.
John A. Gomes, 51, of Cohoes, New York, was trying to forge a medieval weapon using a fire he started in a barrel in a lot near his home at 228 Remsen St., Gomes. he was imitating a History Channel television series “Forged in Fire” where contestants make swords, spears, and axes out of random metal, sometimes using open, coal-fired forges.
Fire fighters battle multistructure fire in Cohoes. pic.twitter.com/KtvWDZkpBs
— Lori Van Buren (@curleypic) November 30, 2017
The fire spread, whipped by 30 mph winds, spread quickly through the densely built-up neighborhood, completely destroying at least three apartment buildings and damaging more than two dozen others. The damage is expected to reach into the millions of dollars.
“It is the worst disaster the city has ever seen,” Mayor Shawn Morse said at an evening press conference.
“You have close buildings, you have balloon construction, you have the wind, you have a lot of different variables,” Morse said. “Now we know that a small fire gets out of hand and becomes a big fire, and we’ve got millions of dollars in damage and three blocks of destruction.”
Gomes was charged with felony counts of reckless endangerment and arson. He is free on $15,000 bail.
Christopher Ritchey of the Albany County Public Defenders’ Office, is representing Gomes. “My client is a father of two and a hardworking plumber,” Ritchey told the Albany Times-Union. “This was an unfortunate, terrible accident, not a crime.”
Assistant Police Chief Tom Ross said the fire had been started unintentionally, the World Bulletin reported.
The man charged with arson and reckless endangerment in the Cohoes fires has been released from jail on bail: https://t.co/0y9nYuHRsq
— Heather Kovar (@CBS6Heather) December 2, 2017
Gomes has lived in Cohoes since 1998. He has two children.
Gomes’s 16-year-old son John Jr. also spoke out in his father’s defense. “My father John Gomes didn’t mean to burn his house down,” the son said on Facebook.
Gomes’ s son pointed out that their entire family had lost everything they owned, and their home. The only thing firemen had been able to save was the family dog.
Everything Went Wrong
Open flames are not permitted within city limits, Mayor Shawn Morse told the Times-Union.
“We often tell people we don’t allow open burns in the city and they often say, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?'” Morse said.
“Well, this open burn just caused millions of dollars of damage and destroyed half our downtown.”
Morse, a firefighter himself for 26 years, was well acquainted with the risks of flying embers in a tightly packed neighborhood full of old, dry, wooden buildings.
“I have seen fires start in a little spot in the house where the person tried to put it out, and by the time firefighters get there, four rooms are burning,” said Mayor Morse told the Times-Union.
“It starts because mother nature and fire combined at times make it almost impossible to get ahead of it.”
The high wind spread flaming embers throughout the tightly clustered apartment buildings on Remsen Street. Once the embers ignited whatever they lit upon, the winds fanned the flames, making the fire hotter.
— CBS 6 Albany – WRGB (@CBS6Albany) November 30, 2017
The balloon framing Mayor Morse mentioned added to the fire’s rapid spread. Balloon-framed houses have open channels running from floor to the rooftop, which can spread the fire as if being sucked up a chimney.
Had Gomes tried his metal-crafting on a windless day, he might have actually made a medieval-style blade. Instead, he created a disaster, which has hurt his family and all of his neighbors.
#NEW: we're back on scene in Cohoes where massive flames took over Remsen St last night – the mayor tells me it now looks like *26* buildings were damaged. Again, NO injuries, amazingly. We'll have live team coverage on this at noon @CBS6Albany pic.twitter.com/RiTTpiuJK8
— Lynzi DeLuccia (@CBS6Lynzi) December 1, 2017
Homes and Possessions Engulfed in Flames
At least 20 people were left homeless by the fire.
Bethany Bejian and Mike Ferris lived in a second-floor apartment at 226 Remsen St., in the building next to the Gomes family. From the time they first saw flames shooting past their windows they had a “minute and a half” to flee.
The couple managed to rescue their two dogs—Jackson and Zeus. They could not find their pet cat before the flames forced them from their home.
“We just moved in a week and a half ago,” said Bejian. “Everything we had was in there.”
So proud of the outpouring of support from the Capital Region community to the fire-ravaged city of Cohoes. Cohoes Bowling Arena creates these tees to raise money for victims–all kinds of donations flood in. Mayor says all displaced have been helped. pic.twitter.com/osYugN421T
— Liz Bishop (@CBS6_LizB) December 2, 2017
Matt Eisler-Monti told the Times-Union that she saw sheets of flame in front of her apartment window. She, her husband, and their pets all escaped.
Matt Eisler-Monti said Gomes “should know better than to do that near a home in a city.”
“I don’t know what we would do if we lost our apartment. I’m just glad we’re OK.”
Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse says Cohoes is "resilient" with great community support. Hundreds of offers from people willing to donate $, Xmas presents, clothes, shelter. Morse says "That's the best of Cohoes at the worst of times". pic.twitter.com/znEdIq84jE
— Liz Bishop (@CBS6_LizB) December 1, 2017
Do you think John Gomes should be punished for his actions? What punishment might be fair? Post your comments below.
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