ADAMS — James S. Jones stood shivering in the cold as firefighters worked at the scene of a spectacular blaze Saturday afternoon that extensively damaged his home and destroyed a next-door neighbor’s house on Grange Avenue in downtown Adams.
The fire began about 1:40 p.m. at 24 Grange Ave., the home of Cynthia A. Smith, and quickly spread to the duplex at 22 Grange Ave., where Mr. Jones said he has lived for the past five years.
Mr. Jones and his wife, Michelle; a friend who was visiting with her two children; and the upstairs tenants, Jason J. Silsby, his girlfriend, Katrina M. Towne, and his daughter, Kealy-Marie G. Roach, 7, escaped from the duplex safely.
Mrs. Smith also escaped the fire but had to be taken by South Jeff Ambulance to Samaritan Medical Center in the city of Watertown, where she was being treated in the emergency room Saturday night. Her condition was not available.
“Her whole house was engulfed, and now it’s gone,” Mr. Jones said.
The blaze left five people homeless and Mrs. Smith’s 90-year-old house a charred mess, with much of the exterior gone on one side. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but fire investigators combed what was Mrs. Smith’s living room at the front of the dwelling.
Firefighters from the Adams, Adams Center, Belleville, Ellisburg, Henderson, Lorraine, Mannsville, Rodman, Smithville and town of Watertown departments and Jefferson County fire coordinators were called to the blaze, which took nearly three hours to bring under control. Firefighters planned to be at the scene for much of the night Saturday.
The flames from Mrs. Smith’s single-family home spread so fast they “jumped” over a driveway and the 20 feet between the structures, said Jefferson County Deputy Fire Coordinator Robert D. Simpson.
Flames initially entered a stairwell in the duplex and spread quickly through the upstairs and into the attic, Mr. Simpson said.
Firefighters — hampered initially by power lines that fell to the ground — attacked the blaze as if it were “two fire incidents,” with one engine company focusing on the duplex and the other on Mrs. Smith’s house, Mr. Simpson said.
Mr. Jones said he was watching television in his living room when he looked out his front window to see what he thought at first was falling snow, but actually was dark gray smoke.
“I thought it was snowing really hard,” Mr. Jones said. “I thought it was whiteout.”
He said when he went outside to check it out, he realized what was going on. By that time, Mrs. Smith’s house was completely engulfed and the fire already had spread to the duplex.
After getting his wife and visitors out safely, Mr. Jones said, he retrieved a 5-gallon bucket and started filling it with water from his bathtub to throw on the other house until a firefighter ordered him to stop.
Later, standing in a sky-blue hooded sweatshirt with temperatures that hovered around 15 degrees, a shivering Mr. Jones recounted his story to a friend who consoled him and brought him coffee. His wife and visitors were warming up in his pickup truck.
Lance A. Brown, who lives across the street at 23 Grange Ave., called 911 after Mrs. Smith came over to get help. Mr. Brown’s wife, Denise E., said Mrs. Smith was gasping for air and worried about her cat.
“She kept saying, ‘Oh, my God. Oh, my God, my cat, my cat,’” said Mrs. Brown, who tried to calm Mrs. Smith down and then helped her to a neighbor’s house down the street.
The American Red Cross was called to help the fire victims. Mr. Jones said he figured he and his wife would stay with friends or relatives.
“I don’t know how much is left. They won’t let us down there,” he said, adding that ironically, he and his wife had been discussing getting renters’ insurance earlier in the day, before the fire began.
The duplex at 22 Grange Ave. is owned by Lisa Ann Levely, LaFargeville, according to the Jefferson County Real Property Tax Services website. It was unclear if the structure was insured.
As a precaution, firefighters asked National Grid to turn off power to customers in the area, said utility spokesman Patrick D. Stella. Electricity was restored about 45 minutes later to the 2,600 customers, Mr. Stella said.