Five hours into 2014, Mike Popper was told his building in the Aliquippa Industrial Park was ablaze. To call the feeling gut-wrenching, he said, would be an understatement.
An early morning, three-alarm fire Wednesday damaged Steel Street Commerce Center I, 101 Steel St., and the two businesses it houses: Master Halco Inc., a fencing company, and Metalwerks PMD Inc., a processor of specialty metals, Aliquippa fire Chief David Foringer said.
As the building lacks many windows and doors, it's probable the blaze burned inside for some time before police noticed the fire at 4:32 a.m., he said.
When fire companies arrived, the fire had spread through the entire 135-foot-long building, he said.
The building "suffered heavy damage" but was not at risk of collapsing, the chief said, though several interior walls came down. Some equipment inside the building remained intact, he said. The fire was under control by 7 a.m.
"We're not sure what caused this," said Mr. Popper, president of Metalwerks and owner of the building.
For his company, the commerce center was a secondary building and employees were told to report to work today.
Metalwerks board member Jim Crawford said the company is very happy no workers were in the building during the fire.
Fire crews and the state police fire marshal remained on the scene until about noon Wednesday.
State fire marshal David Jungling, who is assisting the Aliquippa Police Department, said the investigation is ongoing and "nothing has been ruled out." Police were unavailable for comment.
"We're anxious to hear the report from the fire marshal," Mr. Popper said.
Ten companies -- from Ambridge, Aliquippa, Baden, Center, Conway, Economy, Hopewell, Independence, Monaca and Raccoon -- responded with about 60 firefighters battling the fire, Chief Foringer said.
Though no injuries were reported, firefighters encountered a problem as water turned to a layer of ice on the parking lot surrounding the building.
"We had a lot of slips and falls, but no one got hurt," Chief Foringer said.
Conway Volunteer Fire Department provided a portable shelter and drinks for the responders.
The Aliquippa chief said he had no complaints about the response.
Lexi Belculfine: email@example.com, 412-263-1878 or on Twitter: @LexiBelc.