CFD: Three families displaced after Charles St. fire

A residents looks at fire damage to the back of 18 Charles St. with others on Tuesday afternoon SARAH BULLOCK

No one was injured in a house fire this morning at 18 Charles St., but three families were displaced and code enforcement shuttered the building citing electrical, heating and smoke detector violations. 

City firefighters were called to the residence at 10:42 a.m. after someone spotted smoke and called 911, said City Fire Chief Wayne Friedman on the scene. Two of the apartments were occupied when the fire began and were evacuated, Friedman said.

Resident Shane Roach said this afternoon four of his children — ages 8, 4, 3 and 2 — and his fiancée were all home in their first-floor apartment when the fire broke out. All made it out safely.

 When firefighters arrived they found smoke throughout the building but no obvious fire, Friedman said. Officers’ search brought them to the outside, back wall of the house where they discovered bubbling underneath the vinyl siding and smoke coming from underneath a window sill, he said.

Pulling the siding off the back wall, firefighters found the fire inside the wall and quickly extinguished it using a fire hose, Friedman said.

An initial investigation determined the likely cause of the fire was a cigarette accidentally dropped in a hole in the wall underneath the windowsill, Friedman said. City fire investigators are continuing to look into the fire’s cause, he said.

As firefighters searched the building, they discovered there were not enough smoke detectors in the apartments, Friedman said. “They were sparse to say the least,” he said, adding no carbon monoxide detectors were found either.

The department also discovered electrical wiring issues and furnace system issues that violated city building codes, Friedman said. National Grid and NYSEG workers were called to the residence and agreed with firefighters that the systems were unsafe and needed to be shut down, he said. Friedman noted the furnace system was improperly venting and could lead to a build up of poisonous, odorless carbon monoxide gas.

City Code Enforcement declared the building unsafe and uninhabitable, Friedman said.

“They (the families) can’t stay there until it gets fixed,” he said, adding the owners will be issued code citations. If the problems are not fixed, they will be fined, he said.

The property is owned by Edward Bennedy and Peter Bennedy, according to the 2019 Cortland County real property tax rolls. The property is listed as having a full-market value of $53,933.

Edward Bennedy declined to comment at the scene.

The American Red Cross were called to assist the property’s residents with relocating. 

Roach, a Marine veteran, said his family would stay with his fiancée’s father for the time being.

“In my opinion, this was caused because of negligence and irresponsibility,” Roach said. “When we moved in, we were told everything was fine with the smoke detectors.”

Roach said his family had not lived in the apartment long, but had already noticed issues with the electrical wiring. When he tried to plug items into the outlets in the kitchen, fuses blew in the house, he said.

Friedman noted that if the fire had broken out at night when the residents were asleep and unable to spot the smoke, they could have lost their lives.

The Bennedys are also listed as owners at several other city apartment houses, including: 20 Charles St., 19 Elm St., 186 Main St., 64 Owego St., 21 Sands St., 6 1/2A South Ave., 8-8 ½ South Ave., 16 South Ave., 24-26 South Ave., 30 South Ave., 32 South Ave., 34-34 1/2 South Ave., and 38 Union St. 

Edward Bennedy is the listed owner of 13-15 Elm St., 76 Central Ave., 1 South Ave., and 4-6 South Ave.; Peter Bennedy is the listed owner of 105 Pendleton St.

Cortland Code Enforecement Officer and Firefighter Roy Everett walks away Tuesday afternoon from 18 Charles St. after posting a sign designating the building unsafe. SARAH BULLOCK