B y Jaime Thomas
Officials still don’t know what caused a fire that killed two people and destroyed their North Granville home early Thursday morning.
In the home were 80-year-old Lee and 77-year-old Dema Martin, both of whom would’ve celebrated birthdays during the past week. Autopsy results, released Monday, confirmed the couple died from asphyxia due to carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation.
North Granville Fire Chief Scott McCullen said crews were called at 12:19 a.m. Feb. 6 to the fully-involved structure fire at 543 County Route 12.
“Upon our arrival the house was pretty much down on the ground,” he said. Though he wasn’t sure why calls didn’t arrive sooner, he said several factors made it hard for responders to get to the scene.
“The road conditions were very terrible; trying to get personnel on scene at that hour was tough,” McCullen said, adding that firefighters initially had to attack defensively. “There was a power line across the road and driveway, so we were fighting from back behind the power line.” It took 25 more minutes for NYSEG to be on scene to deal with the downed lines.
“We had everything against us,” McCullen said.
Because two people were missing in the fire, he said crews had to be careful with their attack. They had put out the blaze by about 3 a.m., as it was “pretty contained” but remained on scene until 10:30 a.m.
Because of winter conditions, McCullen said there were problems with water; he had tankers running almost 8 miles to two dry hydrants in the village of Granville.
“I’ve never in my time as chief called as many departments as I did. We needed to keep water circulating to keep our operation going,” he said.
In addition to North Granville, fire departments from Granville, Middle Granville, Hartford, West Pawlet, Vt., Whitehall, Fort Ann, Hampton, Cossayuna, Argyle, Kingsbury, Rupert, Vt. and Hebron were all on scene. The Wells, Vt. department was at the dry hydrant and the Pawlet, Vt. fire department and Granville EMS were standing by. Washington County Sheriffs were also on scene.
The cause of the fire remains an open case at this time, McCullen said, as anything from electric heaters to smoking to a woodstove could have started it.
“There are many factors; there’s not much left to even go on,” he said.
Investigators do not suspect any suspicious activity.
Lee and Dema would have celebrated their 60th anniversary on Saturday, according to their obituary. Lee graduated from Granville High School, while Dema graduated from Whitehall High School.
On Saturday, Dr. Michel Sikirica performed autopsies at Albany Medical Center on the remains of the bodies located in the fire and were able make positive identifications using medical and dental records.
Their immediate causes of death have been ruled as asphyxia due to carbon monoxide and smoke inhalation, according to Sheriff Jeff Murphy.
“It’s a very bad tragedy—hits home hard,” McCullen said.