Tonawanda News

May 17, 2009

NORTH TONAWANDA: Fire causes heavy damage

Investigators still looking into cause of Oliver Street blaze

By John Hopkins<br><a href="">E-mail John</a>

BY John J. Hopkins

Eight people were displaced and two Oliver Street buildings were heavily damaged by a fast-moving fire early Saturday morning.

The blaze began at Mark’s Food Market, a cinder block and glass building at 290 Oliver at Schenck Street and quickly spread to a neighboring 21⁄2 story wood frame building at 286 Oliver St.

North Tonawanda firefighters were at the scene within two minutes of the 12:08 a.m. report. Firefighters quickly tapped three nearby fire hydrants, including one directly across the street from the deli and were using three hoses to pour water on the fire from the front and side of the building.

“The first engine arriving reported heavy fire coming from 290 Oliver,” Assistant Fire Chief Richard Kozak said. “It was already spreading to 286 Oliver.”

Additional hoses were used to quell the blaze, and two water cannons from an aerial ladder were also employed during the fire fight. Kozak said all North Tonawanda’s apparatus were used and estimated there were 40 firefighters at the scene.

Kozak said the fire at first was trapped in the drop ceiling of the market, a delicatessen. When it reached the outside, it appeared to have extended from the deli’s wall directly to the eaves and attic at 286 Oliver. The two buildings are only a few inches apart.

“A second good-sized building becoming involved in fire poses a major threat,” Kozak said. “We already had three apartments to search, and then we had to check the second floor next door with a fire overhead in the attic.”

The fire was discovered by a tenant in an apartment behind the deli, Eric Damon. He said he was sitting on the stoop outside his apartment at the time and when he saw smoke between the two buildings and went to investigate.

“I saw what looked like a couple of logs near the building,” Damon said. “Flames were going up the side of the building and I yelled to my old lady to call 911.”

While she reported the fire, Damon said he ran back inside to get his dog and knocked on an adjoining apartment to alert a neighbor.

“My buddy lives back there,” Damon said. “His girlfriend was home and I yelled to her to get out because the building was on fire.”

Heat from the fire blew out the plate glass windows of the deli around 12:15 a.m., sending glass flying across Oliver Street. Wind blowing from the east sent smoke billowing toward Tonawanda Island.

Kozak said eight people were displaced by the fire. There are three apartments behind the deli that all incurred light smoke damage.

Damon said his apartment was not on fire when he retrieved his dog. Kozak confirmed that the fire did not reach the apartments.

There is one unit upstairs at 286 Oliver, where the roof caved in. Plasterers Local Union No. 9 has an office located on the ground floor.

The Red Cross is assisting all but one of the displaced tenants.

Damage was estimated at $675,000. Damage at 290 Oliver was listed as $100,000 to the building and $400,000 to its contents. The structure at 286 Oliver sustained $100,000 damage and another $75,000 to its contents.

The late night excitement attracted more than 100 onlookers, including patrons from local bars who spilled into Oliver Street to get a look at the firefighting efforts.

Police closed Oliver to traffic at Robinson Street to the north and Thompson Street to the south.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control at 1:17 a.m. and cleared the scene at 3:34 a.m.

Fire investigators conducted several interviews of witnesses and continue to probe the blaze’s cause.

City of Tonawanda firefighters staffed the Engine 4 fire station on Vandervoort Street during the fire while members of the Adams Fire Department staffed fire headquarters.

Contact night city editor John Hopkins

at 693-1000, ext. 150.