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Fire investigation update from Madison Street, information on missing cats (video)



Fire investigators are closer to announcing the cause of the fire that destroyed the historic home at 165 Madison Street in Wellsville on Thursday, Dec. 16 and housed eight apartments.

Allegany County Fire Coordinator Jeff Luckey was at the scene a better part of Monday for the third day with another investigator and an investigator from an insurance company. Luckey said they have isolated the cause to the third floor, and no residents or the public have been allowed to go on the third floor. He also said they do not believe it is arson or anything suspicious.


There were four tenants treated for smoke inhalation who were home during the fire. Three were treated and released the next day.

The fourth was William ‘Butch” Costello, who was on the third floor, the same floor the fire started. His cat woke him up, his family members said, and he had some burns but a lot of smoke inhalation.

Luckey said MercyFlight came in to take him to Strong Memorial Hospital.

“At the time of the fire, Andover and LifeNet were already at the landing zone for an unrelated transfer from Jones Memorial,” Luckey said. “Wellsville called for another bird which took Costello.”

Family members said he was in the intensive care unit on a ventilator. By Saturday, he was moved into a regular room and then released on Sunday. He is staying with his daughter in Wellsville.

“I was able to talk to him on Saturday to see what occurred and the lay of the land of his apartment,” Luckey said. “I also offered him help through the Red Cross. His teenage son lives with him as well and they lost everything.”

On video the day after the fire, one of the cats belonging to the Newland’s on the second floor was rescued as the cat was hiding in the basement. During the fire, another second floor tenant, Aaron Maier, said he was hoping his two cats were able to get out.

“I’m sad to report they were not able to get out,” Luckey said. “We recovered them, deceased, in the apartment and turned them over to Aaron.”


Luckey said the firefighters attacked the fire and the second floor and the sprinkler system in the apartments worked.

“The only person who lost everything was the third floor tenant and obviously the vacant apartment as well,” Luckey said. “Even though the other tenants had a lot of damage and are in need of stuff, actually they didn’t have any fire damage in their stuff, per se. They were able to get the most precious things to them, photo albums. Dennis O’Keefe was very helpful as a landlord letting them in to get personal belongings. The kitchen and bedrooms have water and smoke damage but no fire damage. Personal papers and jewelry survived and anything handed down from their family.”

When asked if beds, or other items could be used again, Luckey said “no, because of the smoke and water damage.”

During the fire, Luckey said “I was reassuring the tenants who were watching across the street a lot of things would still be there based on my experience over the years at fires.”


O’Keefe stayed current with the fire extinguishers and the sprinkler system.

Luckey said investigators also watched the videos on Facebook live from the scene on the John Anderson Digital Media Facebook page and the videos on the Wellsville Sun. It helped show where the fire started and proved the landlord had his sprinkler system working.

Because the sprinkler system worked, residents were able to get out of the smoke-filled apartments and into the water.

“A lot of the water you saw later in the video showing the water going down the stairwell was from the sprinkler system continuing,” Luckey said. “The sprinklers were in the hallway and the stairwells, but that gave protection to the residents coming out.

“The alarm system worked, the water flow alarm system was working and when that goes off, so when the sprinkler goes off, there’s another bell that goes off as well,” Luckey continued. “There were fire extinguishers, everything in the basement was well-labeled, he basement was clean, the hallways were (clear), this was a very good landlord.”

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