VOORHEESVILLE – A fast moving fire at a farmhouse at 64 Normanskill Road killed four people on Saturday, July 8.
At approximately 5:15 a.m. a woman called 911 to report the fire and say she was trapped in the house with a 5-year-old girl. The pair could not escape the room due to an air conditioner in the second-floor window.
Dispatchers tried to help the woman find another way out of the structure, but were unable to do so before they lost contact. When firefighters arrived, the house was fully involved, said New Salem Fire Chief Steve Ayers.
“We knew right away that people were trapped and we had to get inside,” he said. “When the call came in we immediately called (other departments) in.”
Ayers and firefighters from Slingerlands and New Salem, who were first on the scene, attempted to go through the front door.
“We gained entry through the front door, but the fire was so intense. The heat pushed us back,” he said.
According to Ayers, a firefighter from New Salem arrived with his civilian car and had a ladder on the roof and was able to access the room on the second floor with the air conditioner by prying it loose, but the heat and smoke was so intense, they could not access the room.
“It was just an awful scene,” Slingerlands Chief Craig Sluers said. “When the water falling on your head from (fire department hoses) was burning us we could tell the intensity of the fire.”
The house was a farmhouse built in the early 1900s and also had a metal roof that kept the heat in, according to firefighters.
The family ran the Circle Tree Farm on the property and sold a variety of goods including eggs, flowers, and firewood. The Neander family has farmed the land for generations. Arthur (AJ) Neander, 35, has been running the farm since his mother Ann died last November. He perished in the fire along with his uncle Dale Donato,64, who was disabled and AJ was caring for, according to the Go Fund Me for the family.
Rebecca Montersosso, 40, who made the initial call, and Emily Neander, 5, died inside.
Emily was a student at the Voorheesville Elementary school and the district released a statement Sunday.
“This is heartbreaking news,” Superintendent Frank Macri said. “The loss of a student is always tragic, but this is compounded by the community’s loss of several members of the family. On behalf of the school district, I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to those who loved and cared for the family.”
Macri notified district staff and families Saturday of the tragedy, and the school’s crisis team was activated to develop a grief support plan for students and staff in need.
AJ’s 15-year-old son Anthony jumped from a second-story window and was the lone survivor of the fire.
Friends of the family have set up a page to help with funeral expenses at gofundme.com/f/community-tragedy.
“As we all know funeral services are costly for one person let alone four. So I am starting this to help with the funeral expenses and the expenses of getting some new things for Anthony as everything he owned has been lost due to that fire,” the page said.
The New Salem Fire Department is also meeting Wednesday to discuss what to do to help the family, Ayers said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Firefighters from New Salem, which covered the district where the fire happened, Delmar, Westmere, Voorheesville, Elsmere, Slingerlands, McKownville, Onesquethaw, Selkirk, and North Bethlehem all responded.
This story first appeared in the July 12, 2023 print edition of The Spotlight.