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Investigators cannot pinpoint cause of West Main Street fire

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Fire investigators have not been able to determine what caused a fire that extensively damaged a West Main Street building on Monday night.

Watertown City Fire Chief Dale C. Herman said they believe the blaze at 560 W. Main St. began outside a camper parked inside the building, but they could not “pinpoint the ignition source.”

Firefighters responded to the fire call about 6:40 p.m. Monday, and contained the blaze within 40 minutes. Owner Darin T. Duarte did not have insurance on the building or the camper, Chief Herman said.

The building was used for storing vehicles and auto parts; some mechanical work also was completed inside, Chief Herman said.

In the 1990s, under previous owners, the building housed International Truck Repair.

While fighting the blaze Monday night, firefighters were not concerned about any potential contaminants from the truck rental business, Chief Herman said, noting it did contain a fuel station.

Several years ago, the city could have taken control of the property on back taxes, but decided against that because of the possible contaminants issue, said Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s planning and community development coordinator. Mr. Mix said he didn’t know whether anyone has ever investigated what chemicals could be on the site or whether a cleanup was ever completed.

The city’s Code Enforcement Office will send out a letter in the next few weeks to the owner to find out his intention for demolishing the building. If he fails to tear it down, the city would have it demolished and then bill him, code enforcement officials said. It is too early to say what would be found on the site once the building is gone, city officials said.

Spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler said the building has not been on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s radar, so it is not aware of any contamination at the site. DEC also has not been involved in any investigation to find out whether chemicals remained from when the building housed a truck repair shop.

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