By FRANK ANDRUSCAVAGEÂ Â Published: February 5, 2013
MAHANOY CITY – Workers cutting apart a portion of an old heating system sparked a blaze Monday that damaged the former General Cigar plant in Mahanoy Township.
Mahanoy City firefighters were called to the scene at 11 East End Road about 2:10 p.m. and found heavy smoke coming from the northeast section of the building and flames already through a portion of the roof.
Anthony Blackwell, fire department administrative assistant and safety officer, said firefighters were met with heavy smoke throughout the eastern part of the building and determined that the flames could have spread quickly throughout the plant. The incident was quickly upgraded to a three-alarm blaze for additional manpower and equipment.
Blackwell said the investigation determined that the owner of the building, TERA Reality of Shenandoah, had contractors inside removing the old furnace. While the workers were using cutting torches, plastic in and around the furnace accidentally ignited.
The fire was contained to the area around the furnace, Blackwell said.
Borough fire Chief Randy Kalce commended crews from Mahanoy City and as far away as Hazle Township, Luzerne County, for keeping the damage confined.
“This was a very large building with zero visibility for firefighters to work in … they managed to make a good knock-down of the bulk of the fire within about 30 minutes and no one was hurt,” Kalce said.
After extinguishing the fire, Kalce said crews remained on scene for about two hours to ensure the fire was completely out.
Blackwell said the former General Cigar plant complex consists of two large buildings. The easternmost structure – where the fire was – is unoccupied and is planned to be a storage warehouse. The western half is leased to the Schuylkill Historical Fire Society and was not affected by the fire.
Firefighters said the historical society is storing more than 30 antique fire vehicles inside.
Blackwell said that as of late Monday, he did not have any estimate of the damage caused by the fire.
All five Mahanoy City fire companies responded along with firefighters from Frackville, Englewood, Ryan Township, Hometown, Girardville, Tamaqua, McAdoo and Hazle Township.
Pottsville and Altamont firefighters responded with their Rapid Intervention Team in case firefighters would become trapped or injured inside the building.
EMS units from Mahanoy City, Ryan Township, Shenandoah and Frackville were on scene and traffic control was done by fire police from Mahanoy City, Hometown and Schuylkill Haven. Police from Mahanoy City, Mahanoy Township, Frackville and state police troopers from the Frackville station also assisted with traffic control.
East Mahanoy Avenue, from 14th Street in Mahanoy City to Route 54, was closed for several hours and the eastbound lanes of Route 54, from the borough line to East Mahanoy Avenue, was reduced to one lane.
PPL crews were called to the scene along with the American Red Cross, Blackwell said.