Fire leaves Industry without plows, salt



An overnight fire that destroyed Industry's public works building Friday couldn't have come at a worse time.

Inside the building were rock salt and plows the Beaver County borough used to clear its roads of snow and ice. On Sunday, the region could be hit by what an AccuWeather meteorologist said is possibly "the worst snowstorm this season."

The borough lost bags of rock salt, two Ford F550 plow trucks, a pickup truck, three mowers, and numerous shovels, saws, rakes and other tools workers use to clear roads and walkways.

"It's a devastating thing that occurred to our small community," Mayor Nicholas Yanosich said.

But by 8 a.m. Friday, borough council President Keith Hohenshel said he already knew Industry could brave the storm. Calls from nearby communities, asking how they could help, were rolling in.

Thanks to that aid, he said they're ready for this weekend's storm.

Nearby Potter is providing a truck; Vernon Dell Tractor in Ohio is lending a front loader; and Unity and the state are sending salt -- all for free.

"At this point, we're actually covered. It's fantastic. I just can't believe it came together," Mr. Hohenshel said.

At least 14 communities offered to donate snow-clearing equipment and materials, including plows, trucks and rock salt, he said.

"I hope I can pay it forward or pay it back when someone else is in trouble," Mr. Hohenshel said. "I just can't thank people enough."

Responders answered the fire call at 1:15 a.m. Friday.

Assistant fire Chief Chad Doyle said he could see the flames before he and other firefighters turned onto Engle Road, where the building is located. He said officials did not know what caused the blaze.

The fire took more than three hours to extinguish. Backup came from several surrounding departments, including Vanport, Ohioville and Brighton.

Though the building and vehicles were insured, the time it will take to rebuild and replace the lost equipment is what will impact the town most, Councilman Joe Mulach said.

One truck was brand new, bought within the past year, and cost almost $70,000.

He said it could take months for the community to bounce back.

"Everything is gone," Mr. Mulach said.

Only one thing survived the blaze: a storage shed behind the building completed only hours before the fire.

Officials had planned to move some of the larger equipment into the shed to create space in the building.

Mr. Hohenshel said after a borough council meeting Friday night that the borough ordered a truck, which should be ready to go in about a week -- not quite in time for the approaching snowstorm.

The Pittsburgh region is under a winter storm watch through Monday, with the heaviest snowfall expected Sunday night and Monday morning. AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said Pittsburgh and surrounding counties could receive between 6 and 12 inches of snow by Monday.

Along with the snow will come numbing cold, with a low of 1 below zero on Monday.

He suggested with a laugh that the only thing area residents could do to escape the snow and cold was to "move to Florida."

In Pittsburgh, city officials warned it could take up to 48 hours after the snow ends to clear the roads.

The city, which has been grappling with a salt shortage, has 2,000 tons of road salt in reserve and an additional 1,000 tons of sand or granular limestone that's been treated with calcium chloride, according to Mayor Bill Peduto's office.

City officials urged residents to be patient and to avoid calling in complaints about unplowed streets for 48 hours after the snowfall ends. They're preparing for a level 3 snow and ice event, which calls for focusing on primary and emergency routes.

"We're going to be working closely with public safety to make sure medics, police and firefighters get to where they need to go," said operations director Guy Costa.

The city plans to deploy 50 public trucks in 12-hour shifts beginning Sunday evening, increasing the fleet to 65 trucks by Monday morning.

A total of 76 vehicles will be available to deal with the storm by affixing snow plows to supervisors' vehicles and environmental service pick-up trucks.

For the less fortunate, the nonprofit Planet Aid has placed yellow bins throughout the city to collect coats and gloves.

Program director Anthony Legnine said Planet Aid had its first clothing drive Jan. 7. Volunteers then donated 80 bags containing jackets and gloves.

"It's at the critical point now," Mr. Legnine said Friday. "We don't know how long this winter's going to last. It would really help if people can start their spring cleaning now to help out those in need."

Another distribution is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday at McKeesport Downtown Housing at 558 Sinclair St.


Clarece Polke: cpolke@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1889. Lexi Belculfine contributed. First Published February 28, 2014 7:13 AM

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