Investigators probing Gloversville fire

Former leather mill leveled by blaze

The charred remains of the former Tradition and JBF leather tannery complex are pictured Sunday. (Photo contributed by Warren Greene)

GLOVERSVILLE — State and local investigators were due to be on the scene again today following Saturday morning’s spectacular fire on West Eleventh Avenue that destroyed a considerable portion of the former Tradition and JBF leather tannery complex.

No one was hurt fighting the blaze at the century-old, abandoned leather facility.

“We were very fortunate,” Fulton County Civil Defense/Fire Coordinator Steve Santa Maria said today.

According to Gloversville Fire Department Chief Thomas Groff, Fire struck the old structure at 41 W. 11th Ave. about 7:30 a.m. Saturday. In recent years until it was closed in 2010, the 19th Century structure had existed as Tradition Leather, but was known for decades before that as JBF Industries.

Groff couldn’t be reached this morning.

Santa Maria said it took firefighters well into Saturday to bring the fire under control.

“It was several hours into the fire,” Santa Maria said. “It didn’t take long for it to get going.”

Arson hasn’t been ruled out as a possible cause, as the structure was abandoned and had no electrical service going through it, Groff said.

Neighbors said the site was a prime party location for some people.

He said the city fire department responded to a smaller fire at the old tannery several weeks ago.

Santa Maria said the cause was still unknown today, but investigators from the state Office of Fire Prevention & Control, as well local authorities such as the Gloversville Police Department have already been through the charred wreckage. He said state and local investigators were due to be back at the scene today.

Santa Maria said most of the wooden warehouse “main structure” to the west side of the complex was destroyed. He said the two-story, block building on the east side was still standing after the fire. Also intact are some buildings connected to the former leather complex between 11th and 10th avenues and bordered by Foster Street, he said.

By Saturday night, a sole Gloversville police vehicle was stationed in front of Kingsboro Avenue Elementary School to keep watch on the smoldering heap.

Santa Maria said fire crews came back through the weekend to quell any “hot spots” that arose again after the initial attack.

The Gloversville Fire Department was the main agency fighting the fire. But that department was assisted in various ways by: the Johnstown Fire Department, and the Berkshire, Meco and Mohawk volunteer fire departments, Montgomery County authorities and the Ambulance Service of Fulton County.

Santa Maria thanked the Gloversville Enlarged School District for opening up the elementary school for weary firefighters and others.

He said firefighters had “not good conditions” to deal with through winter weather, icy footing and dwindling water supplies.

Problems with “zero” water pressure and water availability was being reported by emergency crews by late Saturday morning. Part of North Main Street was shut down to keep people away from the fire scene and to extend lines. Thick black smoke shot up in the air and could be seen across the city. Two Gloversville fire engines were stationed shooting water high into the air onto the structure in front of Kingsborough Avenue Elementary School and at the intersection of West Eleventh Avenue and Foster Street.

Santa Maria said there were no chemicals to deal with.

He said Groff told him the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the structure a “clean bill of health” years ago.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com

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