Classic cars, pottery studio, barn destroyed in Rensselaer Falls fire; cause undetermined
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 - 11:46 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

RENSSELAER FALLS -- A fire early Sunday morning destroyed a barn in the village and its contents, including several classic cars and a pottery studio.

Kyle and Sally Hartman, owners of the barn with Mary Sanders, were clearly distraught but both said they were grateful no one was hurt and that fire didn't spread to neighboring properties.

"It was Sally's birthday and we were at camp" in Russell, Kyle said. They got the bad news in a phone call there at about 2:30 a.m., an hour after neighbors reported the fire to firefighters.

The cause of the fire is unclear, the Hartmans said. "They ruled out the electric service," Kyle said of fire investigators' search for the source. Speculation centered around a 1995 BMW Kyle and his son David were restoring.

"It was the only thing that was energized," Kyle said, referring to the battery in it, "so the fire investigators couldn't rule it out. It looked like the fire could have been generated near there."

He said he was also concerned about a bonfire that neighbors had going across Birch Street from the barn, "but the wind was blowing the wrong way" for it to have started the barn blaze, he said.

In the barn were several cars, including a couple of his father's projects, such as a 1937 English Austin. Helping to feed the fire were two drums of oil and welding tanks, "so there were a couple of explosions," he said.

"He bought it back in 1945," Kyle said of his late father and a planned restoration project. "It was on his bucket list, and then it was on my bucket list." In addition to the Austin and BMW, lost were a 1957 Ford convertible "really in pristine condition," Sally said, a 1973 Fiat convertible, and a van, along with Sally's pottery studio and four kilns.

Without insurance, "it was a total loss for Sally and me," Kyle said. "It's so hard to get insurance," he said.

Kyle and Sally Hartman are artists and antique collectors and dealers. Kyle has amassed a huge collection of doors, windows, and other building parts that he sells to builders for restorations. All that is kept in another barn, so none of that was damaged. And their Front Street house, while nearby, was not near enough to be threatened by the fire.

"Life happens, tornadoes, floods" Sally said. "We're just glad no one was hurt.

"I think the Rensselaer Falls Fire Department is one of the best in St. Lawrence County," Sally said.