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Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Brasher code officer says trailer destroyed by fire should not have been occupied


BRASHER FALLS - A trailer that was destroyed when a fire broke out shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, and which had been home for a family a five, should not have been occupied because of code compliance issues, Brasher’s code enforcement officer told town council members Wednesday.

Robert W. Forbes said there was no working septic system and electrical power was being supplied by a neighbor.

“That should never have happened. They were not supposed to be living there,” Mr. Forbes said

Monday morning’s fire on County Route 55, Brasher Iron Works, gutted the interior of the trailer owned by Justin and Heather Soulia and their three children, ages 5, 3 and 1 1/2. Fire departments from Helena, Brasher-Winthrop and North Lawrence, along with Tri-Town Rescue, were dispatched to the fire at about 8:15 a.m. and reported back in service at 10:30 a.m. The American Red Cross also responded to the fire scene.

Ms. Soulia and the three children were home when the fire broke out, and Helena Fire Chief Frank Burns said they determined the cause of the fire to be a kerosene heater that was being used to heat the home.

But, Mr. Forbes said, there were other issues that should have kept the trailer from being occupied, and he had shared those with the residents. But, he said, he had been told nobody was living in the trailer.

He said the family was running two extension cords to the neighbor’s house for electricity, including one cord to power a refrigerator, and a code-approved septic system had not been installed.

“The septic system was not done. I don’t know what they were doing for a septic system. There was no power to the meter box,” he said. “For that man to move those children into that place under those conditions is just unacceptable.”

“There has to be some jurisdictional agency that will take a look,” Supervisor M. James Dawson said. “The thins is, a situation like this, somebody could have died. The one good thing is a tragedy was averted.”

Mr. Forbes said he had called the state’s Department of State to see what his options were as code enforcement officer and was told he could issue a summons to the family for being in the home when they had been told it wasn’t to be occupied. But he’s not sure that’s an option he would use.

“Somehow we have to drive this home,” he said. “It’s up to me or the town of Brasher if we want to pursue this.”

Board members decided to give Mr. Forbes the authority to initiate eviction procedures if he ran into similar cases. Each eviction will cost the town $50.

“I think we should give you permission if you need to evict somebody because of a like situation,” Mr. Dawson said.

Councilman John M. Keenan also suggested that a property could be condemned by the code enforcement officer if it was inhabitable.

“Then anyone entering can be arrested for trespassing,” he said.

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