Emergency responders were dispatched to the front and rear of 22-24 East Centre St. (SR54) in Mahanoy City just before 10 p.m. Thursday after neighbors reported seeing smoke mixed in with heavy fog.
A short time after, police and firefighters arrived in the pouring rain to see flames rising from the third floor, as well as heavy smoke throughout the building. After entering the downtown property, police and firefighters determined that all the floors of the structure were unoccupied.
"Firefighters and police were on scene really fast," said neighbor Joshua Joseph. "They had to use a large circular saw to access the back of the property."
"Crews made an interior attack of the fire while a second alarm was dispatched and held the fire to the third floor of the building," said Tony Blackwell, Administrative Assistant and Safety Officer, Mahanoy City Fire Department. "The building received extensive fire damage to the third floor with smoke and water damage throughout."
Officials added that the second and third floors were unoccupied. First responders and neighbors on scene stated that flames reached 10 feet high at times.
"I felt a loud bang and saw a bright light," said neighbor Shawn McElhenny, who lives a block and a half away on East Pine Street. "I'm sure it was lightning. A minute after it struck, we heard the sirens go off." He added that the fire bull horn is located on the top of the burning structure.
"I jumped out of my chair when the lightning struck," said neighbor Bob Pastucha Jr. "I thought it struck our house."
"Firefighters had the fire under control in approximately one hour," added Blackwell.
Blackwell added that one firefighter was injured and taken to the Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Pottsville with ankle and lower back injuries. The firefighter was treated and released. No other injuries were reported.
According to the Schuylkill County Parcel Locator website, the building is owned by Paul J. Gayet and houses an operating thrift store (called Toys, Treasurers and Trinkets Thrift Store), on the first floor.
It is unknown at this time if the building owner had insurance. Blackwell said damage is estimated at $75,000. Neighbors added that the building is remembering highly as the TNT Movie and Video Game store.
Fire crews remained on the scene throughout the night to ensure complete extinguishment had been attained. The cause in under investigation and a PA State Police Fire Marshal is expected to arrive later in the morning.
Adjacent propertery at 26-28 East Centre Street received minor smoke damage and were unoccupied at the time of the fire.
Responding were all Mahanoy City fire and EMS units, along with fire companies from Frackville, Altamont, Shenandoah, Ryan Township, McAdoo, Schuylkill Haven, Pottsville and others. Also responding were Hometown Fire Police, Ryan Township Rescue (who provided rehab), Schuylkill County American Red Cross and Englewood and Tamaqua Rapid Intervention Teams.
During the fire, employees with Craving Cafe walked around providing free warm and cold refreshments to all the responders.
"Taking into consideration this is a very large building with tall ceilings and large openings, I think our firefighters did a tremendous job in keeping the fire to one floor of one building", commented Fire Chief Randy Kalce. "Had it not been for the rapid response and quick interior attack, this could have been a much more devastating fire."