April 14, 2007

Fire destroys Truxton barn


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
DeRuyter firefighters battle intense flames from a Crains Mills Road barn fire in Truxton Friday afternoon. The barn was a total loss.

Staff Reporter

TRUXTON — A midday fire on Crains Mills Road destroyed one barn Friday and nearly ignited an adjacent barn.
The farm at 4160 Crains Mills Road has been in Andrea VanWagenen’s family for several generations, and she estimated the fire-ravaged barn’s age as “over 100 years old.”
“My daughter called it in, because I yelled down to her,” VanWagenen said as she watched her husband, Matt, using a backhoe to break down the charred remains of the barn at about 1:30 p.m., after the intensity of the fire had begun to lessen.
Truxton Fire Chief John Perry said the original call had been logged at about noon, and when firefighters arrived on the scene — no response time was available Friday afternoon — the structure was already fully ablaze.
Truxton, Cincinnatus, Cuyler, Homer, Apulia, and DeRuyter fire departments responded, Perry said.
The smoke from the fire was visible from several miles.
At times, a fine, cold mist of water — which firefighters pulled from the nearby East Branch of the Tioughnioga River — was diffused throughout the area by an icy wind.
The fire already had practically destroyed the barn by 12:30 p.m. The intense heat had made the sheets of metal roofing pliable, and they flapped from the constant influx of water and occasional gust of wind before their collapse into the ruins of the barn was announced by a tinny crash.
Truxton Assistant Fire Chief Ken Stone said the cause had yet to be determined, but the fire had started on the southern, windward side of the barn.
Friends and neighbors agreed that the wind spurred the fire to spread quickly throughout the two-story barn.
VanWagenen said the barn had been used to store lumber, a Maxum boat (the size of which she couldn’t specify), some summer outdoor furniture and some hay on the second floor.
“It was partially empty, so it had all kinds of room to blow through,” Perry said as he stood near the south end of the unsalvageable larger barn. “Of course, the wind’s blowing the direction that it took it right into the other barn. Just the outside got singed. It didn’t break through.”
The eastern and southern exterior walls of the small red barn had been charred.
Firefighters continued pouring water into the still-burning northern side of the barn, in what Perry described as a “curtain” to keep the heat from the blaze from further damaging the smaller barn.
Woodworking and other shop tools had been stored in the smaller barn, along with a variety of cuts of lumber. Friends and co-workers of Matt VanWagenen had worked to remove the materials and piled them on the lawn of the VanWagenen home, across the street from the barns.
They continued working to move the electrically powered equipment inside, and stacking the lumber in order to keep it off the muddy ground.
Andrea VanWagenen said the family recently had done “a lot of work” on the larger barn, and newer timbers were still clearly visible, although they had been partially destroyed by the blaze.
“It went fast, it was just fast,” VanWagenen said, shaking her head.



Plan for new trail progresses in C’ville

Staff Reporter

With at least 50 volunteers willing to lend a hand in preparations, a 2.4-mile walking and nature trail in Cortlandville appears close to becoming a reality.
The Cortland County Legislature’s Agriculture and Planning Committee agreed Thursday that the trail, which would run from Linear Park in Lamont Circle, past the Lime Hollow Nature Center to the Tompkins County line, would have no negative environmental impacts under State Environmental Quality Review standards.
Lime Hollow will host a clean-up day to clear brush from the trail, which will essentially follow the path of an old railroad right-of-way, May 5, and between 50 and 100 volunteers are expected to participate, Legislator Danny Ross (R-Cortlandville) told the committee.
“The only thing keeping people out of there right now is that some sections it gets so thick it’s almost impossible to walk through,” Ross said. “We’ve got a lot of people interested though, and hopefully we can get it all cleared out.”
The path will be approximately 10 feet wide, Ross said, with wood chips laid down wherever needed.
The Highway Committee agreed at its meeting Tuesday to send a county-run wood-chipper to the clean-up day to help with refuse collected.
“I didn’t want to have volunteers who weren’t experienced using wood-chippers,” Ross said. “That’s the only cost we’re going to have though, the overtime for the county employees, otherwise it’s not costing us anything.”
The Agriculture and Planning Committee was supportive of the project, although Legislator Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward) did note that one of her constituents, SUNY Cortland Professor Dr. Steve Broyles, was concerned about the impact the trail might have on the ecosystem it will run through.
“I just want to be sure we’re not ruining anything we should be careful not to ruin,” Tytler said.
Ross agreed, saying he hoped to walk the trail with Broyles next week, prior to the cleanup day.
Broyles said Friday that his biggest concern had stemmed from talk of paving the trail.
“Woodchips are certainly a lot better than blacktop,” Broyles said. “As soon as you get off that path, obviously you don’t want there to be a lot of equipment running over plants, but I think it’s great that there will be better access.”
Broyles said he occasionally takes classes out to that area, which he called “a smorgasbord of wildlife,” including flowering plants, amphibians, snakes and birds.
“It really is my favorite place to go to look at wildflowers, listen to birds, look for salamanders, you name it,” he said.
Ross said he envisioned the trail as both an educational tool and a recreational area, saying that both Homer and Cortland schools had expressed an interest in training for cross-country on the trail.
He said that after May 5, if the trail is cleared, it should be available for anyone to walk.
“We’re really just using the existing railroad bed, it’s pretty much ready to go once we get it cleared out a little,” Ross said.


Three officers join Cortland Police Department

Staff Reporter

Three new city police officers, all of whom are from Cortland County, raised their right hands Friday morning and swore to serve and protect the community.
With the officers’ families present, Mayor Tom Gallagher swore in Cody D. Petrella, Melissa M. Eccleston and Jeffrey M. Fitts as the city’s newest police officers.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Eccleston said after the ceremony.
The three new officers will increase the number of city officers to 45, Police Chief James Nichols said. Nichols presented each of the new officers with their badges. He said he was “proud to ask them to join the force.”
All three officers are Cortland County natives.
Fitts, 29, of Cortland is the son of Calvert and Geraldine Fitts. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice from SUNY Albany. He also served two tours in Iraq as a sergeant in an Airborne Army Ranger unit.
Petrella, 20, of McGraw is the son of Michael and Wanda Petrella and a graduate of the Loving Education at Home home school program.
He was in inspired to become a police officer because his father and grandfather are both retired from the city Fire Department, he said.
Eccleston, 21, of Cincinnatus, is the daughter of Mark and Jody Eccleston and holds an associate degree in criminal justice from Tompkins Cortland Community College.
All three new officers began their six months of training at the police academy in Broome County on Friday afternoon. The three will undergo training at the academy unit October, when they will return to duty in the city.