10 departments battle Aliquippa blaze

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Ten fire departments were able to extinguish a three-alarm fire at a commercial property in Beaver County in 3 1/2 hours tonight, Aliquippa fire Chief Dave Foringer said.

The building at 546 Franklin Ave. had housed a photography studio, Shifflett Studios, but has been abandoned for about five years, he said.

The "suspicious" blaze began in the front of the building -- which was unoccupied and had its utilities turned off -- around 5:15 p.m., and the fire marshal will investigate, Chief Foringer said.

"What beat us up so bad was the construction," the chief said, explaining that the "maze"-like building had been remodeled many times, with windows boarded up and entire floors added on.

The abandoned building was a total loss, although it remained structurally intact, and adjacent buildings were damaged by water, Chief Foringer said.

No injuries were reported, he said.

Six residents lived in the building next to the fire.

Johnny Drouin, 49, was asleep in his ground-floor apartment when his dog woke him up.

Surrounded by thick smoke, he sprang out of bed and went to alert the neighbors in his building. He said all were accounted for outside.

Mr. Drouin fears all or most of his belongings were ruined with water and smoke damage. He said he will probably not be able to sleep in his apartment tonight.

Across the street, the Salvation Army of Aliquippa had opened its doors for family night, providing hot meals and fellowship to the community.

The organization served twice as many people as usual, about 125, including emergency responders and families displaced by the fire. Children and firefighters alike downed plates of hot sausage and potatoes.

"That's what we are, the Salvation Army, we take care of everyone. There isn't anything too big or too small for us," volunteer cook Jada E. Smith of Aliquippa said.

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Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and on Twitter: @nickveronica. First Published October 17, 2013 3:53 PM


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