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Elevator motor fire temporarily disrupts Black Friday shoppers

| Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, 12:02 a.m.
West Mifflin firefighters clear equipment from a parking garage at Century III Mall outside the Sears entrance where crews responded to a motor fire in the store's elevator shaft on Friday (Nov. 23, 2012). Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
West Mifflin firefighters carry one of several fans through a lower level parking garage at Century III Mall to the Sears entrance. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
West Mifflin firefighters walk around a lower level parking garage at Century III Mall outside the Sears entrance where emergency crews responded to a motor fire in the store's elevator shaft. Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Clairton players celebrate their state record 60th win in a row and championship win over Sto-Rox at Heinz Field during the WPIAL Class A Football championship game on Friday November 23, 2012. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Black Friday shoppers temporarily were evacuated from Sears and other businesses at Century III Mall in West Miffllin after an elevator motor caught fire.

A large amount of smoke was reported in the mall shortly before 9 a.m. The fire was reported by a maintenance worker who was servicing the elevator, authorities said. The worker called for help when he noticed heat coming from a door to the elevator's workings.

West Mifflin No. 4 Skyview Volunteer Fire Co. Assistant Chief Bill Pelikan said the motor and its oil burned within the elevator shaft. No one was injured, but the store and businesses around it were cleared while fire crews remained on scene.

“This could have been very serious,” said Pelikan.

The upper level of Sears reopened about two hours after the fire was extinguished, and the whole store was back open by mid-afternoon.

Mall general manager Gina Mercorelli said the smoke was “disconcerting to say the least,” but said the incident didn't seem to deter many shoppers.

“It's out, the mall's open, and it's still Black Friday,” she said.

Philip Pelusi Salon and several eateries in the food court were among the businesses that closed during the fire.

Information regarding damages from the fire was not available at presstime. The Allegheny County Fire Marshal's office is investigating.

Pelikan said water and special extinguishing agents were used to contain the fire. Others at the scene said the floor in Sears was slippery because of spilled oil.

Shoppers reported seeing and smelling smoke as they entered the Sears side of the mall.

Lisa Haberjak of Port Vue dropped off her vehicle or service shortly after 7:30 a.m. and was returning to the Sears automotive department as the fire began.

“I went into the mall and walked around,” Haberjak said. “I was coming back through, and I walked into Sears just as it started. They were trying to figure out what to do.”

One Sears employee waiting in the parking lot during the ordeal noted that some customers were reluctant to leave the store even after the evacuation notice had been given.

As fire crews from around the borough were responding to the Sears incident, Lebanon Church Road was closed briefly due to a vehicle accident near Rodeo Drive.

Firefighters from Glassport Citizens Hose Co. No. 1 were called to the 10:05 a.m. head-on collision of two SUVs, even though the crash happened directly in front of the West Mifflin VFC No. 3 station.

“All the others were tied up,” said Glassport fire Capt. Wayne Lewis III. Lewis said ambulance crews took two motorists to area hospitals for treatment. Both vehicles sustained heavy damage and were towed from the scene.

Fire crews had to clear spilled motor oil from the intersection, and debris was strewn across Lebanon Church Road, necessitating its closure.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or Staff writer Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed to this report.