Berne, NY — A couple who were well-known and beloved in this rural community were killed following a massive explosion that leveled their home Friday night.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple confirmed late Saturday morning that Victor and Lois Porlier, ages 83 and 72, respectively, died in the powerful blast that was felt miles away and has cast a pall over the Hilltowns as fire and sheriff’s investigators search for answers.
Neighbor Helen Lounsbury Galicki who said she lives on Saw Mill Road less than a mile from the Porliers, said Saturday afternoon that “her whole house shook” following the explosion.
She’s “dumbfounded” something like this happened to such good humble people.
“They were both very brilliant people,” she said of the Porliers. “We found them to be very good company, they weren’t braggarts, and this information I’m sharing with you was learned over a period of time.”
Lounsbury Galicki, a retired school teacher who also served on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board, said Victor Porlier worked in campaign management and decades ago helped out with the campaign of late president Ronald Reagan.
“I found it interesting, one of the things about Victor is that he went to the (University of California) Berkeley, he was very liberal at one point and then he became extremely conservative, so there was a major change in his stance,” said Lounsbury Galicki.
She said Porlier traveled a lot for one of his jobs “and I think his viewpoint of the world started to change.”
The husband and wife grew their own vegetables because of Lois Porlier’s strict organic diet and she spoke several languages, said Lounsbury Galicki.
She recalled how her cousin from Dublin, Ireland, himself multi-lingual, marveled after meeting and speaking with Lois that her Irish “accent was perfect.”
The couple’s sprawling property provided them with an “uninterrupted and breathtaking view” of the Heldeberg mountains, their neighbor said.
Still, they had recently sold off a lot of their possessions through an auction and were making plans to sell the home and relocate down South to be closer to Victor Porlier’s son, Lounsbury Galicki said.
She and Randy Bashwinger, Berne’s Highway Superintendent, said the house also featured a spectacular library with thousands of books, which is also mentioned in an online real estate listing for the place. She said Victor Porlier was also “extremely well versed in technology” and wrote books about the Y2K phenomenon.
The real estate listing indicates the 3-bedroom 2.5 bath residential structure “situated between lakes and parks” is 1,440 feet above sea level with rock walls, solar panels and a private pond with “over 15 acres with panoramic views to the south and north.”
Some of the other amenities listed included a mahogany custom staircase with vaulted ceilings and skylights, 54 raised and insulated garden beds, 5 outbuildings, including 2 Amish barns, a 2-story horse barn and solar panes with battery backup, and geothermal heating and cooling with Air Knight purification.
Lounsbury Galicki said Victor Porlier preferred solar panels and had reservations about propane tanks.
“I know that Victor never liked propane, he said he would never have it, but maybe he had to have a tank for something, ” she said, adding the couple were “environmentally friendly.”
Lyons said the use of propane tanks is a part of everyday normal life in Albany County’s Heldeberg Hilltowns.
“Many of us in the Hilltowns, including myself, we have large supplies of propane tanks at our homes because of delivery so it will be a concern for many people now, making sure that it’s always off and there’s no leaks…” he said.
Asked about the Porliers, Lyons described Victor Porlier as “a genius and a very smart man,” and said the couple were good friends with a number of people who work for the town.
Lyons, a lifelong Berne resident who has served as supervisor for about 4 years, said he can’t recall a tragedy of this magnitude occurring in town.
Bashwinger, who is also on the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school board, said Victor Porlier was a regular at meetings.
“He was very dedicated to going to meetings, and he just loved education for young kids,” said Bashwinger, also the Albany County Republican chairman.
He said Victor Porlier was his wife’s caretaker because of her health problems.
Apple remarked on the degree of devastation.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, we’ve had a couple of house explosions, but never anything to this magnitude, ” he said.
East Berne Fire Department, Berne Fire Department, Altamont Fire Department, Westerlo Fire Department, New Salem Fire Department, Onesquethaw Fire Department, Helderberg Ambulance, Albany County Sheriff’s Office EMS division all responded to the incident. New York State Police also assisted in the investigation.