A Dec. 13 fire completely destroyed a barn/residence in the hamlet of Nelson. (photo courtesy Facebook page of Dave Ammann)
By Jason Emerson
A massive barn/home fire in the hamlet of Nelson Wednesday evening was fought by seven fire departments for five hours and resulted in the total loss of the residence that burned.
The owner was not at home and no people were injured by the blaze, but two pets did not survive.
“It was flames through the roof as soon as we arrived,” said Cazenovia Fire Chief Jay Kelchner, who was first on the scene. “I could see flames a mile out as I was driving in. … When I first got there, it looked like Fourth of July sparklers — there were actually burning embers in the air.”
According to Kelchner, the call came in around 5 p.m. on Dec. 13 of a fire in the 4000 block of Nelson Road in Nelson. The residence was a former barn that had been converted into a single-person apartment, Kelchner said.
The fire was fought from 5 to about 10 p.m. in weather so cold — 10 degrees, with the wind chill dipping below zero — that firefighters had trouble with frozen pipes and dry hydrants. The structure itself sits 150 to 200 yards off Nelson Road, so the first fire engine had to lay out a supply line at road, down to the fire, while support vehicles had to set up portable ponds, draft water out of them and then send that water to trucks fighting the fire, Kelchner said.
“We got it down to a manageable size — like a large-scale outdoor bonfire — we left it like that, knowing it was contained by snow around it, and it was not throwing any more embers,” he said. Efforts to get an excavator to the scene to bury the embers with dirt proved impossible.
Firefighters were recalled to the scene at 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning, after a citizen voiced concern; the fire was still burning but not spreading or growing, Kelchner said.
The owner and occupant of the structure, Keith Berger, was not home at the time of the fire. Firefighters were able to save his dog but not his two cats.
“It went up fast,” Kelchner said. “Everything that was in there is gone.”
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, he said.
The Cazenovia Fire Department was assisted at the scene by Erieville, Morrisville, Eaton, Delphi Falls, Smithfield and Manlius fire departments, while the Fayetteville Fire Department covered the Cazenovia fire station in case any other calls came in simultaneously.
A family friend has created a Go Fund Me page to help Berger and his daughter, Nova, rebuild from what was a total loss of all their possessions.
“They are starting over from scratch. Keith only has the clothes on his back. Nova lost all her books that she loved to read and their photography equipment and camping gear they used so often,” according to the Go Fund Me account, started by Emily Ward Young. “Please, if you are able, consider donating money to them to get them back on their feet again. This is a terrible thing to happen made worse by it being so close to Christmas.”
Anyone who would like to donate can visit Gofundme.com and search for “Help for Nova and Keith.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.