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Nearly 30 escape overnight blaze in Boonville

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BOONVILLE — A fire believed to have started by a resident’s smoking in bed swept through nine apartments in downtown Boonville early Thursday, sending some 30 people fleeing.

A mattress ignited in an apartment at 167 Main St. about 2:30 a.m. and spread to adjoining 175-179 Main St., according to Boonville Fire Chief David Pritchard, who said that when he arrived at the scene, the burned mattress had been taken outside to the curb. He estimated it had burned for about 10 minutes before the fire was discovered, which suggests the resident had fallen asleep.

Nine families evacuated safely, but one resident described a terrifying crawl through smoke and darkness. “I said to myself, ‘I am going to die. I am going to die,’” Dayton Leon recalled Thursday afternoon, still broken up over the ordeal.

The addresses contain several businesses at street level, including Hair Spa at 179 Main St., with the apartments on upper floors.

American Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers set up a relief center nearby at the United Methodist Church, 202 Main St., to help displaced residents. By early afternoon, the last of the nine families was receiving assistance.

“We’re finishing up our cases,” said Jim White, disaster action volunteer with the Red Cross. “We’ve got quite a few that will be staying with friends and family, which is the best situation.”

For those without a place to go, Mr. White said, “We’re preparing to set up a Red Cross shelter right here in the church.”

Mr. Leon is one such resident who had nowhere to go. He was just settling in to his apartment before the fire chased him out. For now, he’ll be sleeping on a cot in the church.

“I just moved in two days ago,” he said.

He recalled going to sleep about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“I was asleep, but I kept waking up, choking,” he said.

Though he wasn’t fully awake, he heard the fire whistle go off about 2:30 a.m.

“I laid there with my eyes open,” Mr. Leon said. “My first thought was, ‘I wonder where the fire is?’”

Thinking he saw smoke, Mr. Leon sat up, finally realizing it was his building on fire.

“I opened the door,” he said. “It was just a cloud of smoke; I couldn’t see anything.”

With exits to his left and right, Mr. Leon chose to go left, the shortest route to escape.

“There was too much smoke. I had to change direction,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘I am going to die. I am going to die. I am going to die.’”

Dropping to his knees, Mr. Leon felt and crawled his way to safety.

“I’ve been reliving it all day,” Mr. Leon said, asking not to talk anymore as he could not contain his tears.

“You know people that die in a fire,” he asked. “Those people ... I know how they felt just before they died.”

Constableville, Floyd, Remsen, Turin and Woodgate fire departments provided mutual aid. A section of Main Street was closed as crews began demolishing the building shortly before 10 a.m.

Classes were canceled at Adirondack Central School on Thursday because of a lack of water pressure.

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