Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

A year after fire destroyed a Hillcrest apartment building, residents readying to move back

The newly constructed building at Woods End Circle that burned to the ground last January 5. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

A year ago today, Peekskill woke up to the news of a devastating fire at the Hillcrest Condominium complex that destroyed 16 apartment units and left 25 people homeless. This January 5th, many of the displaced residents are picking out finishes for the interiors of their new homes which they expect to move into during May. 

Not every person who was living at 3 Woods End Circle may move back into the complex, but the building is being replaced either way, said Robert Ferrara of Ferrara Management, the company that has managed ten of the buildings at Hillcrest for the past six years. 

“There’s a lot of emotion around the trauma of the fire,” said Ferrara.  “Not everybody comes back,” he added. That was echoed by homeowner Jenna Reilly who said the 25 people who were her neighbors in the building scattered throughout Westchester when they needed to find other places to live after the fire. “When we do see each other, we’re happy to run into each other.” 

Reilly has been paying her mortgage along with homeowner association fees since the fire, along with rent for the apartment she’s been living in. She’s looking forward to returning to Hillcrest Park when the building is completed. Some of the residents of 3 Woods End Circle were renters. Some have found other places to live and won’t be moving back in. “It was a mixed bag” of who were renters and who owned, explained Reilly.

The new building has fire sprinklers installed and will be ready for occupancy sometime in May. (Photo by Regina Clarkin)

The new two-story building has been built by the Franchise Construction Group to match its 60-year-old neighbors with the same architectural style. This time, however, there is a sprinkler system in the building, which consists of eight one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom homes. The automatic fire sprinkler is a requirement that wasn’t in the 1960’s building codes – so none of the existing buildings, including building three, had one. 

Ferrara and Reilly noted the speed with which the City of Peekskill has been involved in issuing building permits and other approvals for the construction to move along. The mayor’s office and the building department have been working with the builder to assist in the rebuilding, said Ferrara. Ferrara said oftentimes projects like this can take two to three years to be rebuilt. 

“Nothing is getting delayed,” observed Reilly, and residents have been updated and informed in a timely manner.  “I had insurance,” recounted Reilly. She said the scariest phone call she ever made in her life was to the insurance company. What she learned from this experience is to “pay attention to what’s in the policy,” and don’t wait until you need it to read through it. For instance some people may have coverage that pays their rent at another place to live for a year. She didn’t have that clause in her homeowner’s policy. 

A year ago, the fire was called in shortly before 2 a.m. for Woods End Circle – a short loop of apartment buildings that borders the Bear Mountain Parkway. When firefighters arrived, they learned someone was trapped in a second floor unit of building three. After pushing through intense smoke and fire to locate and rescue the final occupant, flames became so intense that firefighters had to retreat from inside the building and continue attacking the fire from outside.

The blaze last year saw 80 to 100 additional firefighters from around Northern Westchester join Peekskill’s firefighters. (Photo by Robert Ferguson)

Because of water pressure issues on Woods End Circle, which is a cul-de-sac in the condominium complex, firefighters stretched a thousand foot hose across Bear Mountain Parkway to tap a Frost Lane hydrant. The parkway remained closed during the morning rush hour with traffic backed up bumper to bumper through local roads, exacerbated by the foggy weather.

The Peekskill community responded with an outpouring of support through GoFundMe pages for residents, along with collections of gift cards and other material goods. “The Peekskill community has been wonderful” said Reilly, “even as life has gone on for residents who were impacted and got back to a routine.” 





About the Contributor
Regina Clarkin, Editor and Publisher
When the Peekskill Herald weekly newspaper ceased publishing in August 2000 it was the first time in the history of the city that there wasn’t a local newspaper.  The award-winning weekly was often referred to as the ‘glue’ of the community. Founded on January 9, 1986 by Regina Clarkin, Kathy Daley and Rich Zahradnik with a $7,000 credit card line, the paper filled the void created when the daily Evening Star was sold to Gannett and moved out of town. Founding publisher Regina Clarkin continued to live in the Peekskill Cortlandt area and turned her attention to other life endeavors.  Through the ensuing 19 years, Clarkin was frequently stopped in town and asked when she would start up the Herald again. In January 2019, Clarkin decided it was less labor intensive to deliver a weekly blog than a print newspaper so she began posting one story a week about life in Peekskill. After a successful crowd funding campaign in 2020, the Herald was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in July of 2021. Peekskill Herald is a digital relative of the former print edition, featuring many of the favorite aspects of the beloved Peekskill Herald such as old pictures, personality profiles and well written stories about newsworthy events. Regina Clarkin is the editor and publisher of the site. Photo by Joe Squillante