BETHLEHEM — Shortly after midnight on the morning of Friday, May 19, hours after a thunderstorm swept the region, residents of a home on New Scotland Ave. in Slingerlands said they heard noises and detected a strange odor.
Seth Reinhardt, the son of County Legislator Bill Reinhardt and his wife, Gail, was on a plane, flying from Oakland, Calif., when his parent’s house was struck by lightening at around 10 p.m. The roof of the building must have been smoldering for around three hours, he said, by the time they became aware of the smoke.
Gail Reinhardt sent her son a text at around 10 p.m., he said, informing him that the house had been struck by lightening during the storm. “They temporarily lost power, a few light bulbs went out and the router got fried,” he said.
The Reinhardts replaced the bulbs and made sure that an electric wheelchair lift for Seth’s younger sister was operational before leaving to pick him up at the airport. When they returned home, they were none the wiser. Gail Reinhardt was preparing food and Bill and Seth were chatting when they heard noises outside and smelled smoke through open windows and went to go investigate. That’s when they saw smoke coming from the roof.
Right around the same time, said Seth, smoke turned into flames.
Gail Reinhardt called 9-1-1 while Seth ran back into the home to assess the situation and gather important personal items, and Bill Reinhardt carried their daughter, DJ, to safety. “And I got the cat,” said Gail.
“Fortunately the residents were all able to get out safely,” said Town Board candidate Jim Foster, a volunteer with Elsmere Fire Company who responded to the call, which was placed between 1:30 and 2 a.m. “The home, however, sustained heavy fire and water damage.”
“We haven’t slept at all,” Seth told Spotlight News the following afternoon. “We watched it burn from around 2 to around 6 a.m.” The family wasn’t allowed back into the home until close to 11 a.m., he said. They took their vehicles and waited at nearby Toll Gate Ice Cream until they were allowed back onto the property, said his mother.
Slingerlands, Delmar, Elsmere, and North Bethlehem fire departments, as well as Albany County Paramedics, all responded to the signal 30 house fire. “Everyone was very kind, very helpful and very sympathetic,” said Gail. “And very sure that we didn’t go dashing back in for anything, which is as it should be.” As much as she may have wanted to go back for her DJ’s electric wheelchair, she said, “That’s replaceable and she’s not.”
One fireman, said Gail, however, was thoughtful enough to retrieve a wooden box from the badly burned third floor of her home, rescuing letters she wrote to American soldiers in Vietnam as a teenager. “That was something that was irreplaceable,” noting that the box itself, from her father, came from the World War II era.
Gail Reinhardt said that her neighbors were also an early source of comfort, calling them “absolutely delightful.”
“Eventually it will stop raining,” she said, as water continued to flow from the second floor to the first. Had the home been newer, said Gail, she was told by a fireman that it would have burned to the ground. “It looks a mess, but most of it’s fixable.”
The historic nature of the home, said Gail, is one of the reasons the Reinhardts chose to live there. “It’s a great old house and, thankfully, the barn is fine,” she said. “We’re hoping to bring it back.”