Monsey Memories: When a ‘Wave of Arsons Plagued Rockland’
It was the summer of 1977, and Rockland County experienced a wave of fires. Apropos of the wildfire fallout that we all felt this week, we feature this part of Rockland's history as we read in the Journal.
“Arson was charged in fires that heavily damaged two vacant houses in New City late Sunday. A local fireman, Steve Maneri, suffered smoke inhalation while fighting a Phillips Hill Road fire and was taken to Nyack Hospital for emergency treatment and later released. The other fire, reported minutes before the Phillips Hill blaze, occurred at a vacant house at the intersection of Laurel Road and Main Street.”
But the string of arsons went far beyond these two homes. Throughout that week, a number of homes, buildings, and businesses were engulfed in flames.
The Monsey Home for Adults was engulfed by a smoky fire Monday night, forcing the evacuation of 213 nursing home residents and the hospitalization of six patients and one employee. A Ramapo police spokesman said that the fire was deliberately set near the home’s indoor pool, but later in the week, fore officials backed off from the arson charge pending further investigation.
“Six West Haverstraw businesses were damaged early Wednesday in a shopping center fire that police blamed on an arsonist…. A Spring Valley building that housed five businesses was destroyed Wednesday night in a raging downtown fire. 350 volunteer firemen were called upon to fight the blaze that was later traced to a possible building fault, such as defective wiring…
“A lone arsonist may have been responsible for three fires that heavily damaged two vacant buildings in the West Nyack area early Friday. All three of the fires occurred within a one-hour period at sites within a one-mile radius, at an unused pumphouse at the old Nyack Waterworks on West Nyack Turnpike, in a pile of rubbish and old tires behind the Pathmark Supermarket on Route 59.".
However, following much investigation, officers were not able to determine a link between some of the incidents, and at least one of the fires was deemed to have begun of natural causes.
"Joseph Butler, the Westchester County arson investigator on loan to Rockland for one day, ruled out arson in a fire Wednesday night that destroyed five stores in downtown Spring Valley. He found the blaze started from natural causes, probably from wiring in a wall or ceiling at one of the stores."
But that week in July of 1977 was certainly a fiery one for the hamlets of Rockland County.