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Fire Damages Historic Structure at Old Fort Niagara

10:04 PM, May 26, 2013   |    comments
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YOUNGSTOWN, NY - The roof of the Gate of the Five Nations, one of the historic buildings at Old Fort Niagara and the main entrance to the park, was damaged by a fire Saturday around 11 p.m.

Lieutenant Clyde Doty of the New York State Park Police told 2 On Your Side that it appears a fireplace in an adjacent building, called the south redoubt, may be to blame.

Officials say that there were no injuries.

A group of reenactors staying in the building had lit a fire on what was a chilly and windy night. It's thought that embers carried by the wind lodged in the roof of the gatehouse and started the fire.

"I think we'll just examine the causes of this and try to take steps to protect a recurrence," said  Robert Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara.

The fort is holding the annual "Soldiers Throughout the Ages" event this weekend and reenactors are staying on the grounds.

Click here for a photo gallery of viewer photos.

In a statement released to the media Sunday morning, Aaron Dey, a board member of the Old Fort Niagara Association which operates the park, said the damage appeared to be minor. He said the entrance would be closed until engineers can inspect the structure on Tuesday.

Mark Stonebraker is a member of the Lancaster Fire Department. He was also there on the grounds, camping outside near the fire, with many other reenactors. He says he got up on a ladder not far away to do what he could to contain the flames.

"I climbed up to the edge of the roof, where I could and I emptied three months worth of extinguishers on it, just to maintain it, but I couldn't get it out," he said, "someone started yelling fire, fire, and people know me and my buddy are firemen so that got us up."

A patrol team at the park originally noticed the fire and called emergency. Multiple fire companies arrived to put the fire under control and put it out.

According to the fort's website, the stone gatehouse was reconstructed in 1931.

In a strange coincidence, May 25, 2013 happened to be the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort George, when American soldiers at Fort Niagara set fire to the British fort on the opposite side of the river. British forces captured and held the American fort, which was later turned back over to the United States according to the terms of the treaty ending the War of 1812.

Dey said, "I actually thought the British were attacking us again after watching the bombardment and fireworks they had at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, directly across the Niagara River. This is really making the Soldiers Throughout the Ages a real interactive experience for fort visitors."

This is not the first time tragedy has visited the fort during a re-enactment weekend.

In September of 2011, the body of 14-year-old Alex Montgomery, a historical re-enactor in uniform, was found floating by a breakwall near the park. It was later determined that the boy had been served alcohol by family members the night before and had wandered off from sleeping quarters sometime during the night before falling into the lake and drowning.

WGRZ-TV

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