ELLENVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Tinder dry conditions and high winds contributed to a fast-moving fire that gutted the heart of an old Catskills resort turned “Indian reservation” over the weekend, police said.
It seems a single careless act has left dozens of people homeless.
The fire that gutted 50 acres in and around the Old Tamarac Lodge Resort was still producing dangerous embers on Monday, the result, CBS 2’s Lou Young has learned, of an illegal open fire set over the weekend during our a dangerous drought.
“We don’t see anything in the way of tools to contain a fire, so it was done in a reckless manner. This was a criminal act,” said Frank Falutotico of the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office.
The flames were fast, furious and quite final, police said.
“I watched by neighbors’ homes go up and they have nothing. I watched them lose everything,” witness Zosia Roberts said.
It was the wind as much as the dry conditions that spread the fire from the far side of what used to be a 4-story building. It was a storm that spread sparks off into a tinder dry landscape, police told Young.
“I’ve never seen fire move that fast in my life and I’ve been doing this 29 years,” Ellenville Fire Department Chief Howard Troue said.
The fire leaped from brush to building; grass to vehicle, jumping a highway in the process, fire officials said. In all, 18 homes were burned to the ground. Nearly 40 buildings vanished. The lucky and the brave escaped with only melted siding on their houses and harrowing memories.
“I was stamping it out with my feet. We had rakes. We had a hose coming from my father’s building. We would’ve lost the houses if we left. We fought the fire first!” Roberts said.
The displaced residents are all members of a small Indian tribe that had once hoped to build a casino in the area. They just sold off part of the old resort to a new owner to pay bills. Now, almost everything is gone.
“This has devastated our entire community and uprooted all our tribal members. We don’t know what we’re going to do yet,” said Ron Golden Eagle, chief of the Western Mohegan tribe.
Law enforcement sources said the owner of the property, Lance Muckenhaupt, could be charged with reckless arson by mid-week.
The Indian tribe put the number of homeless at 45. Young was told most are staying with relatives, but a handful continue to accept shelter from the Red Cross.
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