Investigation into Frankfort inferno begins

VILLAGE OF FRANKFORT — There are so far no signs of any risk of environmental contamination after a large fire at Union Tools in Herkimer County Wednesday afternoon, an abandoned complex that was undergoing demolition.

Meanwhile, investigators are trying to determine the cause of the massive blaze. More than two dozen fire departments responded to the fire, which belched thick black smoke into the sky and could be seen for miles around.

"There were no issues that were immediately evident, other than whatever hazards may be from a large fire," said Stephen Litwhiler, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conversation.

Litwhiler said the East Main Street complex, formerly known as Union Fork & Hoe, is a state Superfund hazardous materials site, and contractors had spent the past month clearing the buildings of asbestos. The factories, which once employed hundreds of workers making yard tools, have been abandoned since 2006.

Authorities said the contractors, hired by site-owner Ames True Temper, had already finished the asbestos removal prior to Wednesday, and they were in the process of salvaging the contents of the various buildings.

Several of those contractors were on the scene Tuesday when a fire broke out in one of the buildings at about 1:30 p.m.

Frankfort Fire Chief Chuck Conigilaro said responding firefighters found two buildings fully involved when they arrived on the scene. Both buildings were 3-stories tall, and were about 1,200-feet long and 60-feet wide. Conigilaro declined to say if the contractors were working in either of those two buildings. That remains under investigation.

Flames continued to spread from building to building until 12 buildings in total were lost to the fire, Conigilaro stated. There are more than 30 buildings across the entire multi-acre complex.

"At this time, there is nothing suspicious," Conigilaro said about the cause. "We are going to do a thorough investigation."

Responding fire crews kept their distance in battling the multi-building blaze, surrounding and dousing the buildings with water from multiple hoselines. Firefighters attacked from both the ground and in aerial trucks.

Conigilaro said the firefight lasted well into the night and crews were still on site this morning.