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Port Henry's historic downtown block was threatened by an alleged arsonist. Photo: Brian Mann
Port Henry's historic downtown block was threatened by an alleged arsonist. Photo: Brian Mann

Port Henry arson could have been major disaster

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Officials in Essex County say an arson attack over the weekend could have destroyed much of the downtown business district in Port Henry. They also say that the man accused of setting at least four fires, 43-year-old Joseph King, attacked firefighters while they were battling the dangerous blaze. Brian Mann has our story.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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One of the buildings that Joseph King is accused of trying to burn is a massive brick structure downtown that shares walls with other major buildings in Port Henry’s small, historic commercial district.

If the fire hadn’t been brought under control, Essex County emergency services director Don Jaquish says the consequences could have been disastrous. "Basically, if we'd allowed it to burn, if we hadn't put the fire out, it would have collapsed.  Basically, it could have taken the entire block out if we hadn't stopped it," he said.

Jaquish said blazes in brick and timber structures of that type are difficult to contain. Complicating the effort to control the dangerous fire was the fact that King allegedly tried to strike fire crews with his car while they were working on main street. 

"He could easily have struck and killed one of the firefighters. If wasn't for [the firemen] running, he would have run them over," Jaquish explained. 

According to Jaquish, King was attempting to make another pass at firefighters when he was stopped by police and pulled from his vehicle. King’s arson spree targeted Mountain Lake Services, where he was a former employee.  The non-profit provides services to hundreds of people in Essex County with developmental disabilities.

Mountain Lake Services is also one of the county’s biggest employers, with more than 700 workers.

Elizabeth Rutkowski is assistant director of the program, says the fires haven’t stopped their programs. "It was predominately offices...and they're actually back up and running now, relocated. There wasn't even a glitch in our services," she said.

An investigation into the alleged arson attack continues. King remains in Essex County jail and so far has been charged with crimes that include reckless endangerment and driving while intoxicated.

According to the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, he’s been placed under a mental health watch by authorities.

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