Fire chief: Whispering Hills fire originated in illegal garage bedroom

| 24 Mar 2019 | 10:45

    By Ginny Privitar
    — Friday evening's fire in Whispering Hills reportedly started in an illegal garage bedroom, although its cause is still unknown.
    “When I last spoke to fire investigator, he said fire originated in the garage of 1307," Chester Fire Chief Pat McKevitt told The Chronicle, referring to the resident's unit number. "There was an illegal bedroom in the garage. The inspector was not able to determine cause."
    The damage extends from unit 1307 to 1311, but it could have been much worse, McKevitt said.
    "The buildings have a fire wall that runs the length of building all the way up to roof line," he said. "It did its job and kept fire from going into the front units, which received minimal damage. The fire was contained to the garage and went outside (up the wall). It was good the heavy wind didn’t start until late last night. Otherwise it would have blown across the roof, outside the fire wall, which would have caused more damage.”
    McKevitt believes there’s a fire wall between units 5 and 7, located in the middle-front of the building, and between units 1 and 11, located in the back of the building, above the garages.
    All the affected units had smoke or water damage, and some damage the fire companies as they checked the fire as it spread.
    Heavy smoke filled the valley by the ShopRite plaza and the intersection by Route 17M/Brookside Avenue, near the McDonald’s restaurant and Academy Avenue.
    Fire companies respondThe fire was already extensive when firefighters first arrived at the scene.
    McKevitt said that, in addition to Chester, fire companies that responded were from Goshen, Monroe, Warwick, and Washingtonville.
    "We had tankers from Florida, Monroe, and New Hampton, and due to a shortage of manpower, we had to put the ‘fast team’ from Washingtonville to work," McKevitt said. He called for a second fast team from Circleville and the Silver Lake Fire Department.
    The fire was two-alarm, with a couple of extra units. It never went to three alarms.
    Companies from Greenwood Lake and Warwick were on standby.
    "Each alarm represents pre-set responses," said McKevitt. "A two-alarm is a working fire, and we get an additional three to four engines, tankers, and a ladder truck."
    A member of Walton Engine and Hose and her parents were among those displaced by the fire. The Red Cross came and assisted.
    Before they left the scene, firefighters escorted homeowners back into their residences to retrieve essentials like medicines, important documents, and a change or two of clothes.
    The smoke damage in all affected units will have to be cleaned.
    The front units have minimal damage, and McKevitt said there’s no reason why they can’t be repaired and re-occupied.
    Unit 1311 suffered the most fire damage and will take longer to fix.
    Related story:Please see related story, "Fire breaks out in Whispering Hills"