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Father, neighbors recall Gouverneur man killed in fire

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GOUVERNEUR — Brian M. Mandigo was just 5 years old when his father shepherded the family to safety during a devastating apartment fire in December 1996. They were putting up Christmas lights when the blaze broke out at their Trinity Avenue building 16 years ago.

“I got them all out of there before the roof caved in,” Louis M. Mandigo recalled Wednesday afternoon as he sat in his truck outside the blackened Austin Street home where another apartment fire claimed his son’s life Tuesday night.

Investigators believe Brian Mandigo, 22, may have fallen asleep while food was cooking on the stove, causing an intense blaze that ravaged the rented home at 66 Austin St. and melted siding on two adjacent houses. Tax records show the home is owned by Carmine G. Barba.

“He had two kids. He was trying to get his life together,” said the elder Mr. Mandigo, who lives in Raymondville. “He had just signed up to go to (General Educational Development classes) today or tomorrow,” he said Wednesday.

Gouverneur Fire Chief Steven M. Young said investigators quickly ruled out arson, deeming the fire an accident caused by deep-fried food that Brian Mandigo apparently left unattended.

The result was a powerful, deadly conflagration that confronted firefighters arriving at the scene shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday.

“When we got there, there was really heavy fire inside,” Mr. Young said.

Gouverneur firefighters were assisted by six other departments, with a seventh standing by as crews spent nearly three hours dousing the flames and preventing them from spreading to neighboring homes.

Mr. Young said firefighters found Mr. Mandigo’s body inside the house, about 10 to 15 feet from the door. It appeared he may have dozed off in a chair, then awakened during the fire, only to be overcome by toxic smoke and intense heat.

Autopsy information was unavailable Wednesday night.

Mr. Young said Mr. Mandigo had been dropped off at the apartment about 10:30, and Louis Mandigo said he understood that his son had been out drinking before he arrived home. The elder Mr. Mandigo said that he is awaiting the outcome of the autopsy and that he wonders if there were other factors that might have prevented his son from rousing sooner and escaping the fire.

Brian Mandigo’s father and neighbors said that he had been living in the apartment with his mother and sister but that they were in the process of moving, and no one else was home at the time. One of two dogs was found outside; the other was not found.

Mr. Young said smoke detectors were found in the apartment, but investigators don’t know yet whether they were operational.

Next-door neighbor Charlotte P. House said a police officer banged on her door to alert her to the flames late Tuesday. When she stepped outside, Ms. House said, she heard a dog barking — apparently one that Mr. Mandigo had let out when he got home — and a repetitive noise like a fire alarm. She then went to stay with a friend.

“Brian shoveled; he helped me do some things,” Ms. House said. “He was a nice young man. I just can’t believe it.”

At 62 Austin St., on the burned structure’s other side, Scott A. Matthews described Mr. Mandigo and his relatives as “a very nice family.”

Mr. Matthews and his family also expressed gratitude to firefighters who saved their own home from destruction.

“It looked like a bright orange fireball,” Mr. Matthews said of the ruined home just feet away.

In the driveway of the burned-out home, Louis Mandigo looked at the aftermath with his youngest daughter, who “wanted to come see the home,” he said.

He acknowledged that his son had gone through some troubled years, including encounters with the law. According to Times archives, Brian Mandigo was most recently charged last fall in connection with an alleged identity-theft case.

But his father said he believes the younger man was trying to put his past behind him and live for his own children.

“He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked him,” Mr. Mandigo said.

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