Three people were hospitalized early Tuesday morning after their apartment building was apparently set on fire.
According to Jefferson County 911, around 3:13 a.m. a call came in for a structure fire at 239 High Street. Watertown Fire Department Battalion Chief Paul Fitzgerald tells CNY Central that when the first fire crews arrived they found the front porch of the building "lit up" with heavy fire, with flames blocking the two staircases which lead to apartments inside.
The building contains eight apartments, four of which were occupied at the time of the fire. Fitzgerald says residents were inside when the fire started, and three individuals were unable to get out because the fire was blocking the stairs. He says two females and one male were forced to exit the building through second-story windows, with help from Watertown police offers and firefighters. One person broke a leg during the escape.
Two other residents suffered smoke inhalation, and all three were taken to Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown for treatment of their injuries. Three of the city's four fire platoons were called to fight the fire, and the Army sent a rescue team from Fort Drum to assist.
Fitzgerald says the building is a "total loss". He says a witness claims to have seen someone pouring gasoline on the front porch, and that the fire's location could be an indicator that the fire was set with the intention of keeping those inside from escaping.
"The police department is assisting with conducting interviews of possible witnesses in the area to see what might have caused this fire this morning," Fire Chief Dale Herman told WWNY-TV in Watertown.
The scene is currently active and under investigation. A team of firefighters remains to keep watch over the site and investigate. Fitzgerald says they have called for an arson dog to check for signs of an accelerant.
The building is owned by Rick Frazier of Pamelia.
(Audio and photo courtesy Newzjunky.com)May 15, 2012