Blaze in Market Square damages 2 restaurants, bar

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Extensive damage caused by an accidental fire that swept through two Market Square buildings Monday could close two popular businesses for a "prolonged" period of time, Pittsburgh fire officials said.

While heavily damaged, NOLA on the Square and Perle are "completely salvageable," said David Smiley, deputy chief of the city's fire bureau. Bruegger's sustained only smoke and maybe some water damage, another official said.

Arson detective Michael Burns said the blaze is thought to have started in the ceiling area above the wood fire oven at NOLA, a New Orleans-inspired bar and restaurant, about 12:45 p.m. It spread to Bruegger's and Perle, a champagne bar above the bagel shop, pouring smoke and drawing dozens of firefighters into Market Square at the peak of the lunch hour.

Market Square fire under control

Three businesses were evacuated after a fire started in the back of NOLA on the square on Monday afternoon. One person suffered minor injuries. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/24/2014)

A chef at NOLA was taken to the hospital with burns when he tried to put the fire out. Initially described as minor injuries, the burns were second- or third-degree, Detective Burns said he was told.

He said the combined damage estimate for all three businesses is $1 million.

"[They] are going to be closed for a very long time," he said of Perle and NOLA, which sustained most of the damage.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control just after 1:30 p.m. Investigators were on scene Monday afternoon, but early reports indicated it was accidental, fire officials said.

Bruegger's employee Jonathon Corner said he was at work when the restaurant started to get extremely warm and smell like smoke.

"It smelled like an electrical fire or something, but I don't know," he said.

Employees began to evacuate after Bruegger's began to fill with smoke, he said. His manager went to NOLA and warned employees that Perle also was on fire.

Heather Miller, an employee at La Cucina Flegrea, said she and some co-workers smelled smoke and looked outside to see the entire square was filled with smoke so thick she could barely see. The restaurant is three doors away from NOLA and was not damaged.

They went to the exit behind the restaurant and saw firefighters at the building where Bruegger's Bagels and Perle are located.

Deputy Chief Smiley said crews were still rooting out some of the smaller embers that continued to burn Monday afternoon because of the thickness of the wood in the buildings, part of their century-old construction.

"Some of those timbers there probably date back to the clear-cutting of Pennsylvania," Chief Smiley said, noting some were up to 18 inches thick. "It's amazing just how thick some of the those timbers are and how large they are."

The electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems in the buildings are connected, the chief said.

Moxie Mind & Body Pilates Studio, above NOLA, sustained minor damage, the chief said.

Erin Verni walked around Market Square Monday afternoon, hoping a fire official would soon tell her whether she'd be able to get inside her apartment above the back of NOLA.

A server at Ten Penny restaurant Downtown, Ms. Verni was working when she heard the fire engines, then got a call from her landlord, making sure she wasn't asleep in the apartment.

"I'm so in shock right now," Ms. Verni said.

Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Clarece Polke: or 412-263-1889. First Published February 24, 2014 1:10 PM

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