HIGHLAND MILLS - A 79-year-old Woodbury resident died early Tuesday morning after a fire broke out in the 19th century house on Route 32 where he had lived for 34 years.


Clyde Magarelli, a retired professor who had taught sociology for five decades at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., lived alone and was the only person in the house during the fire.


Woodbury Fire Chief Scott McClennan Jr. said at the scene that the fire initially was reported around 4:15 a.m. by passing drivers on the Thruway, which runs behind Magarelli's house. McClennan said flames were shooting out of a second-story window when he arrived minutes later.


Firefighters spent about an hour and a half controlling the blaze, which destroyed much of the second floor and roof. McClennan said fire investigators were trying to determine the cause of the fire but had found nothing suspicious.


Neighbors said that Magarelli’s wife had died years ago and that he had no children. Kevin Davis, who had lived next door for about five years, said Magarelli was low key and treated him like a son or grandson, sharing many a summer meal with him and talking until late at night.


"He was a very nice man," Davis said.


Davis said he went into the smoke-filled house around 4:30 a.m. to try to rescue his neighbor but couldn't find him. He let Magarelli's four dogs outside.


Davis said Magarelli's college forced him to retire about a year and a half ago. Media reports in 2018 indicated that William Paterson was investigating classroom videos a student had posted on Twitter in which Magarelli suggested the moon landing was faked and seemed to minimize the brutality of the Nazi Gestapo. The videos and an earlier controversy involving Magarelli sparked accusations he was trafficking in anti-Semitic and conspiratorial views.


William Paterson officials confirmed Tuesday that Magarelli taught at the university from 1967 until his retirement in September 2018.


cmckenna@th-record.com