Fires Continue at Vacant Pa. Industrial Complex

Erie Fire Inspector John Widomski was driving through the city's east side on Monday morning when he spotted smoke coming from the large, vacant industrial complex in the 100 block of East 16th Street.

It was a familiar sight.

City firefighters were twice called to the nearly 300,000-square-foot complex over the weekend to extinguish fires. Another fire, on July 24, took all of the Erie Bureau of Fire's on-duty companies more than five hours to put out.

Four other fires have occurred since the beginning of 2013 in the sprawling brick complex, once home to Quin-T Corp.

"We need to do something here," Andy Zimmerman, the city's manager of code enforcement, said as he and Erie Fire Chief Tony Pol watched firefighters douse the fire found in a northwest portion of the building on Monday morning.

The problems with the building, fire and code enforcement officials say, are its size, its deteriorating condition and its relatively easy access. Officials hope to address these problems, and come up with a plan to fix them, in a meeting with the owner, Erie Chief Fire Inspector Guy Santone said.

"We've been sending e-mails, letters. We want to get him to Erie, sit down with him and show him what the problems are," Santone said.

Zimmerman said after the July 24 fire that the building owner, listed in Erie County property records as 140 E. 16th St. Inc., of Depew, N.Y., would be sent an order to either repair or demolish portions of the complex on its north side.

Zimmerman said Monday that city officials will be asking for some type of plan to secure the building, because there are many ways for people to get inside.

The owner will also be asked to clear different "alleys" in the complex of trees and brush so there are clear sight lines, Zimmerman said. The owner has a security company that travels around the building every 90 minutes, and clearing those alleys would help the company, he said.

The cause of Monday's fire, which was reported at about 8:40 a.m., is under investigation. Santone said he does not believe it was deliberately set, but might have been set off by hot embers left behind when crews fought another fire in the same area of the building on Sunday night.

Firefighters who responded to that fire when it was reported at 6:20 p.m. Sunday found fire in a room full of old paperwork, Santone said. Firefighters who were sent to the complex on Saturday found one fire near the loading dock and another fire in an area containing old rolls of paper and cardboard, he said.

The fires on Saturday and Sunday appear to have been intentionally set, Santone said.

"There's all kinds of stuff in there. Rolls of paper, a lot of pallets, a lot of stuff that can burn. The floors are mostly wood, the ceiling is wood," he said.

Fire officials said the complex is also dangerous because there are holes in the floors, and some of the ceiling beams are broken. One city firefighter fell through the roof while fighting Monday's fire but was not injured, Deputy Fire Chief Marty Heid said.

"We just don't want anyone to get hurt over a vacant building," Pol said.

TIM HAHN can be reached at 870-1731 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNhahn.

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