About a dozen fire companies responded around 2 p.m. yesterday to a commercial structure fire along SR54 and East End Road in Mahanoy Township. When firefighters arrived, they noticed flames and heavy smoke shooting out of one of the three connected building of the former General Cigar plant.
The blaze started from a spark as workers cut apart a section of the old heating system, located near the northeast section of the complex. The building, built in the 1950's, is comprised of three sections and sits on 10 acres of land. Schuylkill Parcel Locator lists the owner of the structure as Terra Realty Company Inc. of Shenandoah.
Firefighters on scene noted that a section of the complex was also used to store approximately 30 antique fire apparatus for the Schuylkill County Historical Society. Their Facebook pages states that none of their apparatus was damaged during the blaze.
Anthony Blackwell, fire department administrative assistant and safety officer, said the investigation determined that contractors inside accidentally ignited plastic in and around the furnace while they used a blow torch to remove an old furnace.
Chief Randy Kalce, borough fire chief, commended crews from Mahanoy City and all other responding fire companies, located as as far away as Hazle Township, Luzerne County, for keeping the damage confined.
All five Mahanoy City fire companies responded along with firefighters or Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT) from Frackville, Pottsville, Altamont, Shenandoah, Englewood, Ryan Township, Hometown, Girardville, Tamaqua, McAdoo, Delano, Hazle Township and others.
Also responding were EMS units from Mahanoy City, Ryan Township, Shenandoah and Frackville were on scene and traffic control was done by fire police from Mahanoy City, Hometown and Schuylkill Haven. Police from Mahanoy City, Mahanoy Township, Frackville and state police troopers from the Frackville station also assisted with traffic control.
The American Red Cross also responded, providing hot refreshments and snacks to the firefighters.
Part of SR54 was reduced to one lane during the major part of the response.
"This was a very large building with zero visibility for firefighters to work in," said Kalce. "They managed to make a good knock-down of the bulk of the fire within about 30 minutes and no one was hurt."