2nd Kent fire in a week destroys home

(Original publication: December 12, 2003)

The second residential fire to hit Kent in a week destroyed a single-family home yesterday afternoon in the Gipsy Trail Club neighborhood.

No one was injured in the 3:15 p.m. fire at the McGill residence at 10 Twin Elm Lane. But the remote location of the home — on a narrow, steep street off Gipsy Trail Road — and the lack of accessible water hampered efforts by several dozen firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

As a result, the fire devoured the small, two-story wood-frame home where Richard and Helen McGill lived. The couple were not home when the fire started and were not available for comment.

Neighbor Jack Power was returning to his home on Gipsy Trail Road when he saw orange flames leaping from the McGills' home and notified authorities.

"I was coming home, and I heard this popping noise," Power said. "I looked over and saw flames and black smoke. That's when I called 911."

Robert McMahon, Putnam County's commissioner of emergency services, said a combination of factors resulted in the house being a total loss.

"The fire happened in the middle of the day, when there's not a lot of manpower available. The home is on a narrow road, and there's not a lot of water available," McMahon said. "It seems like everything was working against the homeowners."

The home is off a narrow, winding section of Gipsy Trail Road, several hundred feet north of Veterans Memorial Park. The narrowness of the road made it difficult for fire apparatus to pass one another. As a result, engines and tanker trucks, after providing water for firefighting efforts, had to back into driveways to allow other apparatus to pass.

Assistant fire Chief Robert Shannon said firefighters' response to the blaze was delayed because the neighborhood is on the edge of the Lake Carmel Fire District. The area is heavily wooded and has rolling hills and ponds. Neighbors said many residents use their homes for summer vacations and as weekend retreats.

"It takes some time to get out here," Shannon said. "As soon as we heard the call and that it was fully involved, we immediately called for assistance from the Kent Fire Department."

Volunteers from Lake Carmel, Carmel, Kent and Mahopac responded to the scene while Patterson volunteers stood by. Fire police diverted traffic to allow access to emergency vehicles.

By 4:30 p.m., all that remained standing was a fieldstone chimney and part of a wall. County fire investigators were on the scene last night, but were unable to get inside the home as the flooring was deemed unsafe. No cause had been determined.

On Dec. 4, dozens of firefighters from throughout the county responded to a fire in an apartment building/workshop at Bottlegate Farm. The farm on Route 52 is a Kent landmark with a pair of approximately 8-foot-tall cement milk bottles at its entrance. No one was injured in that fire but nine people lost their homes. Officials attributed that fire to an overheated exhaust fan.

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