WARRENSBURG — The bodies of an elderly couple were found Tuesday morning in the remains of a Schroon River Road home after an early morning fire leveled the building, officials said.
Property owner Doug Strodel lived in the house with his wife, Gail, and the bodies that fire investigators and firefighters located are believed to be the Strodels, who were in their 70s. Efforts to formally identify them were pending and were expected to be part of autopsies scheduled to be performed on Friday.
The body believed to be that of Mr. Strodel was found in an area that was thought to be a second-floor bedroom he used, while the remains of a woman were located in debris consistent with the first floor, near a door to the outside. Mr. Strodel had been having health problems that affected his mobility, and he had been using oxygen tanks to help with breathing, officials said.
The fire was reported at 3:27 a.m. at 744 Schroon River Road, just north of Schroon River Campsites, and firefighters arrived to find little remaining of the building.
The Warrensburg Fire Department, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and state Office of Fire Prevention and Control remained on the scene well into the afternoon, sifting through the remains of the two-story home that collapsed into the basement. The cause of the fire was not yet known as of Tuesday afternoon, and police said there was no initial indication of arson or any criminal activity.
Before the bodies were found, Warrensburg First Assistant Fire Chief David Alexander said that firefighters were hopeful the couple had gone out of town unexpectedly and weren’t inside. But several vehicles were in the driveway and garage, and police found no one who knew of any plans for the couple to travel.
“We hoped they had gone on vacation,” Alexander said.
County property tax records show the house is owned by Strodel, a well-known figure in Warrensburg who ran D & G Hardware on Main Street in town for years before it closed a number of years ago. He also operated a coin shop, D & G Collectibles, in Warrensburg and Glens Falls, after the hardware store closed.
Gail was frequently by his side, helping at the businesses.
Alexander and Warren County Sheriff Bud York fondly recalled Mr. Strodel, who worked as a part-time sheriff’s officer before unsuccessfully running for sheriff in 1999. He was also a U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army veteran, and served on the Warrensburg Planning Board in the 1990s, as well as waged campaigns for town supervisor in the 1990s.
“He was a congenial guy. Everybody liked him,” York said.
“He was a legend around town,” Alexander said. “Everyone knew Doug. It’s a very sad event, an unfortunate day for Warrensburg.”
Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty was among the volunteer firefighters on the scene, and he recalled Mr. Strodel fondly as well.
“Doug was a nice guy,” he said.
York said Strodel had been ill in recent months, but friends who stopped by the fire scene on Tuesday morning said they had seen him in recent days, and he had been upbeat.
The Strodels lived in the home with a number of pets, and a dog’s body was also found in the rubble.
Smoke rose from the cellar as a backhoe was being used to pull apart the remnants of the house, with state and county fire investigators looking over what was removed.
There was little but a foundation and chimney remaining above ground. Investigators spent a notable portion of their time excavating the area around the chimney.
Warren County Deputy Fire Coordinator Scott Combs said a county plow truck driver spotted the fire and reported it. The home was fully engulfed in flames, with little remaining at that point.
“He (the plow truck driver) had gone by an hour earlier and didn’t see anything,” Combs said. “When he went by an hour later as he finished his route, it was pretty much gone.”
“I got here five minutes after the call and it (the home) was on the ground,” Alexander said.
The heat of the blaze melted the siding off a large garage about 40 yards from the home, and caused the top to blow off a nearby kerosene tank.
Firefighters from Bolton, Lake George and Chestertown provided mutual aid at the scene, as did Warrensburg EMS.
The cause and area of origin for the fire remained undetermined as of early Tuesday, and it was also not known whether there were any smoke detectors in the home. Alexander said the amount of damage the building sustained was hindering efforts to figure out what happened.
The fire was the second on Schroon River Road in Warrensburg in three days. A kitchen fire Saturday night damaged a home and burned an occupant.
Don Lehman covers police and court matters, Warren County government and the outdoors. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or firstname.lastname@example.org