Firefighters battle blaze at Homer City fuel facility
Authorities are looking for the cause of multiple explosions and fire that destroyed an Indiana County fuel company's office and garage on Thursday, sending flames and smoke into the sky and leading emergency responders to evacuate the neighborhood.
“It sounded like dynamite going off,” said Joe Sisko, who lives a half-mile away and awoke to his windows shaking, thinking a car had hit his home.
Terry Gardner, second assistant fire chief for Homer City Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire was reported about 3:30 a.m. at Accent Fuels Inc. Gardner said the building on West Indiana Street, which housed an Accent Fuels office and garage and Northeastern Flooring, a wood-flooring business, was engulfed when fire crews arrived. He heard four or five explosions from inside the building, which he said contained fuel tanks and drums.
Nobody was inside. “No one was hurt. I'm thrilled with that,” said owner Mark Coleman.
The cause of the fire remains unknown, said Homer City police Chief Louis Sacco. He said state police fire marshals, Indiana County detectives and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are helping with the investigation.
“There were a lot of people our department needed to talk to,” Sacco said. “My officers canvassed the area, going house-to-house.”
County detectives assisted with witness interviews and ATF agents were called because of the extensive damage, Sacco said. No damage estimate was available.
Coleman said the nine-employee company will be back in business today at other locations. It lost a half-dozen trucks and oil in the fire, he said. Coleman, 55, and his brother Gregory, 49, founded the petroleum distribution company in January 1977, according to state records.
“There were tons of ashes coming down,” said neighbor Crystal Oswalt, 28, who stood in the snow to watch. “It was just amazing.”
Ken Patterson, 75, whose Steeler-bedecked home sits behind Accent Fuels, said he saw flames in the building before fire crews arrived and went door-to-door to alert his neighbors.
Patterson said firefighters thought he was still in his home, so they threw a piece of wood through his back sliding glass door to look for him inside.
“They thought they were doing the right thing. I can't get mad at that,” Patterson said. “What I'm really mad at is look what (the fire) did to my Steelers sign!”
Patterson's white “You're in Steeler Country” banner, hanging below his front bay window with melted vinyl trim, was singed.
Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this report. Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.