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Fire guts two buildings in downtown Ambridge

Natasha Lindstrom
| Sunday, July 6, 2014, 11:27 p.m.
Firefighters attempt to break through to the second floor of a building on Merchant Street in downtown Ambridge about 11 a.m. Sunday.
Emily Harger | Tribune-Review
Firefighters attempt to break through to the second floor of a building on Merchant Street in downtown Ambridge about 11 a.m. Sunday.

Carole Korn-Carver walked out of church and found 30 missed calls on her cellphone. She knew something had to be terribly wrong.

Soon after, she stood on Merchant Street in downtown Ambridge and watched flames consume her newly renovated bridal consignment boutique.

“I was just totally numb,” said Korn-Carver of Beaver, who recently invested $18,000 in a rooftop and $20,000 in redoing the downstairs floor.

A fire that lasted for several hours on Sunday gutted two buildings in Ambridge's business district — Korn-Carver's shop and a former tanning salon — and sent a man who'd been living in an upstairs apartment to the hospital with smoke inhalation.

It was the second fire involving a commercial building in Ambridge in five days. On Wednesday, a fire took down Rook's East Side Saloon just around the corner at 282 Fourth St. Once owned by former Pirates pitcher Jim Rooker, Rook's recently had reopened as a Mexican restaurant.

Ambridge fire Chief David Drewnowski was quick to shoot down speculation of foul play under discussion by a small group of locals clustered behind caution tape blocking off the street.

“It's too early at this time to find out what started it,” Drewnowski said.

The fire call came in about 10:35 a.m., Drewnowski said. More than 100 firefighters from the Ambridge, Baden, Conway, Fair Oaks, Harmony and Rochester fire units worked to put out the flames into late afternoon as smoke billowed from the collapsed roofs of both buildings.

Details on the victim's condition were not available. He was conscious when firefighters brought him down from the smoke-filled second floor on a ladder, and he was alert enough to tell firefighters he was the only one in the building, Drewnowski said.

A state fire marshal will investigate. Drewnowski said he expects to have a conclusion on what caused the fire by the end of the day on Monday.

Anderson's candy store, adjacent to Korn-Carver's building, wasn't affected because it was protected by a fire wall. The clothing store and former tanning salon shared a wall with a doorway, Korn-Carver said.

A lot next to the tanning salon was vacant and weed-ridden. A September 2012 fire destroyed the former Charles Men's Store at that site and displaced eight tenants living above the shop.

The age and dilapidated conditions of many Ambridge buildings make it tough to extinguish fires quickly, and most contain outdated wiring, Drewnowski said.

“When we're fighting these old buildings, they're fighting us,” Conway Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Bill Giska said.

Korn-Carver said she had recently updated her building's electrical wiring. She has insurance, but she's worried the reimbursement won't be enough to cover the damage.

As thick black smoke poured into the sky, a purple “Coming Soon” banner hung intact above her pale-green building's doorway.

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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