Several City of Poughkeepsie businesses were destroyed Tuesday night and seven firefighters were hurt battling a dramatic South Avenue blaze that one onlooker said was as bright as a sunset. Nearby Route 9 was shut down in both directions to allow access for emergency vehicles and prevent accidents as motorists stopped to catch a glimpse of the fire, City of Poughkeepsie Police Lt. Michael Horkan said. South Avenue also was shut down. It took firefighters about three hours to knock down the flames. They were still on the scene around midnight.
Building owner Chauncey Maggiacomo watched as the fire engulfed Sound on Wheels at the south end of the strip mall and continued throughout the building, which has been in Maggiacomo's family since the 1950s.
''This is my life,'' he said, his eyes never wavering from the fire, his hand cupping his cheek. ''I feel sad -- sad for all the people here. A lot of my tenants have been here more than 20 years.''
The strip mall housed Jocko's Racing, Sound on Wheels, a shoe repair shop, and a tattoo parlor, among other businesses. The fire was first reported by an off-duty Town of Poughkeepsie detective.
Loud popping sounds could be heard as chemicals kept in several of the businesses caused small explosions, making safety a top concern for firefighters.
The presence of the chemicals forced firefighters to take a more tactical approach as they fought the blaze, City of Poughkeepsie Fire Chief Kenneth Boyd said. The wounded firefighters suffered minor injuries, he said. They were treated at Vassar Brothers Medical Center and re-leased, officials said.
Frank Algier, a Marist College student, was driving on Route 9 with his younger brother Evan and fellow Marist student Mark Santucci when they spotted the fire.
The three were among the first on the scene and tried to see if anyone was trapped inside the building, which authorities believe was empty when the fire broke out about 7:30 p.m.
''It looked like a sunset when you drove by,'' Frank Algier said.
Flames rolled through the roof of the building, with pillars of dark orange fire and sometimes thick black smoke shooting up into the night. Water from fire hoses could be seen dripping inside the burning building and appeared to have little initial impact on the blaze.
Bob Prichard, owner of Sound on Wheels, watched the fire with two of his employees.
''I'm shaken,'' he said. ''I got up in the morning and for 27 years, this is where I came.''
Employees Josh Jordan and Dan Sweeny said everything was fine when they left the car stereo shop about 5:45 p.m.
''It's like a little kid's dream working there,'' Sweeny said as the flames gutted the shop.
Area residents Mike Flynn and Dave Gatlin stood near the fence of the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery, across the street from the building, watching it burn.
''They've been here so long,'' Flynn said of the businesses, ''it's kind of sad.''
Gatlin, motioning toward Sound on Wheels, said: ''I bought my first radio there.''
Maggiacomo lamented the hit his tenants have taken from the fire.
''All these people are just trying to survive,'' he said, noting one business, Quick Signs, was a recent start-up.
''They get a break like this, it's very unfair. I'm very concerned with how to get them up and running.''
City and Town of Poughkeepsie police were on scene, as well as the City of Poughkeepsie Fire Department and the Dutchess County Sheriff's Office. Other fire departments on hand included Arlington, Roosevelt and Fairview.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.