81-year-old man dies in Old Chatham blaze

Reprinted with permission from Times Union

OLD CHATHAM — An 81-year-old man died and three others were injured, including the man’s son who tried to save him, in an early morning blaze Monday, September 5 at an 18th century home.

The man was identified by the county Sheriff’s Office as Larry Shapiro.

Garry Smith, chief of the Tri-Village Fire Department, was among the first two people to respond to the fire at 482 Ford Road.


Larry Shapiro, 81, of New Jersey, was killed in a fire at his son’s Old Chatham home in the early morning hours of September 5. According to Columbia County Senior Investigator Kevin Skype, Mr. Shapiro did have heath issues which made it difficult for him to get around. His son, Jonathan, tried unsuccessfully to save his father, who succumbed to smoke inhalation. Photo contributed

Aware that a man was trapped, they quickly tried to check how to get inside.

“We attempted to do a 360 of the building,” he said. “We were driven back by the heat. There was no possibility of effecting a rescue. The entire shell of the structure was engulfed in flames.”

Six people were inside the house when the fire started just after 3 a.m. Five of them were able to get out, though three of them were taken for medical help due to injuries.

The family used the house as a second home that they often visited, he said.

After determining there was no way to get inside, Chief Smith said, firefighters fought it from the outside.

Water had to be taken from two ponds to fight the blaze, he said, as there were no fire hydrants there.

“We were able to contain the fire with the water we carry on the trucks,” he said, until that additional water arrived.

The cause is still under investigation.

A family member had reported smelling propane before the fire started.

“That was detected by one of the residents at an earlier time, possibly last evening,” Chief Smith said. “They also reported smelling smoke but were unable to find anything.”

It was out by 8 a.m. but firefighters remained on the scene until 1:45 p.m.

One neighbor, driving past reporters outside the home, was upset to learn what house had caught fire.

“Oh they are such nice people!” she said before driving away.

Fire investigators from the Columbia County Cause and Origin Team and from State Fire used heavy equipment and shovels Monday to sift through the remains of the home.

Real estate information provided on zillow.com says 482 Ford Road is called the Old Chatham Estate. Property records show it is owned by a man who also has a residence in New York City, and that it’s a 24-acre property with a five-bedroom house dating back to 1790, as well as other structures on the property dating to the early 1800s.

About 75 firefighters came to battle the blaze, Mr. Smith said.

“We got an excellent response,” he said. “We did the best we could with a bad situation.”

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