Fire spread quickly through building, threatened others

When Christine Rodgers heard a noise outside her bathroom window Monday night, she figured it was time to call the police.

She had been asked by the owner of the old brick building that sits above her backyard to notify authorities if people were inside. So, she looked out.

This time she had to call a different department.

“There were flames shooting out the bottom two windows,” Rodgers said on Tuesday, the day after fire gutted the old building. “It was the last thing I expected to see.”

She yelled for her son to call 911.

“They were here within three minutes, but by then it was going through the roof,” she said. “I could not believe how fast it was going.”

The City of Warren Fire Department was dispatched at 8:53 p.m. and arrived at 8:57, according to Chief Sam Pascuzzi.

“At our arrival there was fire coming from just about all the windows on the Fourth Avenue side from the ground to the roof,” Pascuzzi said. Fire was also showing on the Fifth Avenue side.

The cause of the blaze at the former Glendora Products building at 1021 Fourth Ave. had not been determined Tuesday afternoon. A state police fire marshal was expected at the scene Tuesday.

“The United Refining warehouse and the building adjacent to it were only about 15 feet away,” Pascuzzi said. “That was the primary exposure.”

A neighboring house to the north apparently suffered some heat-related siding damage. “When the roof went in there was some radiant heat,” Pascuzzi said. Large sections of the north and west walls collapsed during the fire.

The rising heat from the blaze sent burning material high into the sky where the wind pushed it west and south.

Warren County Control received emergency calls reporting burning embers landing on houses as far away as the 1200 block of Pennsylvania Avenue West.

“They made us evacuate,” Rodgers said, adding that she wanted to stay and watch over her property, but was advised not to.

Officials told her there would be more fire departments on the scene soon and someone would keep an eye on her house. “Somebody called me and told me they were spraying our house down,” Rodgers said. Signs of the fire could still be seen on the roof and the shed, but “I don’t think it caused any damage.”

“We were cognizant that we had embers and we were ready for that,” Pascuzzi said. There were no reports of embers starting fires at other properties. “When we got the tower operating we were able to suppress a lot of the embers.”

The unsteady state of the structure prevented firefighters from waging an internal attack.

“We had a collapse issue right from the beginning,” Pascuzzi said.

At the peak of the battle, department hoses delivered thousands of gallons of water to the building every minute. Firefighters were using so much water they had to make sure they utilized different water mains to keep up the needed level of supply, Pascuzzi said.

“We got the bulk of the fire suppressed pretty quickly… 45 minutes, an hour at most,” he said.

Mutual aid departments Glade, Pleasant, and Clarendon were released at about 2 a.m. North Warren and Starbrick stayed on with the city through 4 a.m. keeping the water flowing to the building.

On Tuesday, city Engine 2 was at the scene until about 11 a.m. “hitting hot spots,” Pascuzzi said. “It will probably smoke and smoulder for quite a while.”

He said firefighters will continue to check on the situation.

An ambulance was called to the scene at about 10:30 p.m. “We had one firefighter who was struck in the leg by a coupling” which weighs about 20 pounds, Pascuzzi said. “He was transported to the emergency room for evaluation. He’s fine.”

The Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad shut down Warren operations Monday night as a result of the fire. Pascuzzi expected the rail cars to be able to run Tuesday after some of the building could be torn down, eliminating the chance of a collapse onto the tracks. The railroad and the building owner, the John Dorsey Branch Trust, “have been real cooperative,” Pascuzzi said.