Addressing burned buildings in Brocton, Portland

Fires can result in tragedies for communities from loss of life or damage to a historic landmark or property, but after the flames are extinguished, blight can remain.

The village of Brocton and town of Portland suffered several fires last year including Tri-Church and two homes on Route 20.

“We have had a lot of fires in recent years in the Portland and Brocton areas and many of them have been accidental,” Portland Code Enforcement Officer Signe Ruminger said.

According to reports in the OBSERVER, in 2013, Brocton and Portland each had three fires that resulted in damage too great for repair.

TRI-CHURCH

Tri-Church was one of these fires where repair may not be possible.

Built in 1903, it was a beloved and historic landmark in the center of Brocton, which in addition to hosting three combined parishes also held memories of weddings, baptisms and other community functions. In 1985, it was the first church in the U.S. to combine three parishes; the Salem Lutheran Parish and the Brocton and Portland Methodist parishes.

On the night of Nov. 3, 2013, firefighters fought a blaze that completely destroyed the roof and interior of the church.

Not long after, the parish was able to find a new home close by at St. Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church.

Lt. Richard Telford of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Fire Investigation Team said the cause of the fire at Tri-Church is still “undetermined.”

“This fire … is still being actively investigated,” he said in an email.

He said he could not say why the investigation has taken so long but expects to finish in the next two weeks.

Tri-Church Parish Board President Marv Zirkle said no decisions have been made as to where the parish will call home in the future.

“The building still stands, but we are still in negotiations with the insurance company. Until they release it, we can’t do anything,” he said.

Zirkle said he does not think the church will be able to be restored.

“There is so much damage, I don’t see how it would be possible,” he said.

Brocton Mayor David Hazelton, who is also involved with the Brocton Fire Department, agreed.

“I assume it will have to be demolished. What happens when fire heats up the bricks and cold water is sprayed on them is the mortar between the bricks pops out. Even if the mortar is still in place it has likely been weakened. In my opinion I don’t see how it could be repaired,” he said. “It is standing right now, but we don’t know what could bring one of the walls down – a wind storm, a truck going by or a rumble in the ground.”

He added the village has not demanded the structure be taken down because they “do not see it as a danger.” The area around the church has been roped off while the Tri-Church Parish goes through this process.

Zirkle said the parish is still determining future plans, including the possibility of building a new church.

“We are doing a study right now to decide what direction to go. At this point no decision has been made,” he explained. “We are having discussions and meetings to see what’s most feasible for our size organization. We hope to know more soon.”

PORTLAND FIRES

In Portland, progress at both 6360 Route 20 and 8757 Pecor Street has been slow-going.

Ruminger said slow but sure progress is occurring at 6360 Route 20.

Firefighters arrived at the multi-family home the night of May 17, 2013 to a fully-involved fire in the front of the house. No one was home at the time of the fire, but the house was declared a total loss.

The cause of the fire was ruled arson and James Moreland of Jamestown was indicted for second- and third-degree arson on July 24, 2013. He is being held in the Chautauqua County Jail awaiting sentencing.

It has been nearly a year since the fire destroyed the home, but Ruminger said the demolition is expected to be complete soon.

“The owner is taking care of the demolition himself,” she said. “He has followed all the rules, but it is a very slow process. He has a deadline of May 15 to have it down.”

Ruminger did not have as good of news about the large brick home on the corner of Route 20 and Pecor Street.

“We were not able to find the owner. We had the (Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office) try to serve him with paperwork, but they could not find him. They think he may be out of state,” she said.

She explained zoning and building violation charges are limited in where they can be served.

This house caught fire due to a defective wood stove chimney in the early morning of Feb. 8, 2013. The fire took 13 fire departments over three hours to extinguish and the second floor, roof and back of the house were heavily damaged.

Ruminger said if the town decides to take action to demolish the house, taxpayers would have to foot the bill.

“We would like to take it down, but the town would be left with the cost. You will find if you talk to other code officers they have the same problems with out-of-state residents. If we are able to find them in the state and serve them with the paperwork then they will have to do something or go to court. Until then, we continue to work at it,” she added.

Comments on this article may be sent to ngugino@observertoday.com