Intense Etna fire melted steel, cracked concrete, fire chief says
The dense, dark smoke that filled Butler Street in Etna during Wednesday’s fire in the heart of the borough’s downtown was a small indication of the magnitude of the blaze that raged inside the store facility, the borough’s fire chief said Friday.
The scene inside the 110,000-square-foot building, formerly a Tippin Inc. rolling mill, was 10 times worse than what people saw outside, Chief Greg Porter told the Tribune-Review.
Firefighters, who Porter described as well-trained and aggressive, were pushed back by the intensity of the blaze. Large hoses were useless against it at times. He called the scene apocalyptic.
“The fire was severe enough to melt the steel girders and cause the concrete to crack in a 30- to 60-feet area,” Porter said. “You’re talking about a significant amount of fire and heat to make that happen. It’s pretty incredible energy.”
Sorting out the exact cause and damage done by the blaze is going to take a while, Porter said.
The building had been converted into a large storage area and office space for small businesses. There were between 75 and 200 vehicles stored inside, including rare, collectible vehicles worth millions.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever know an exact dollar amount,” Porter said of the damage done by the fire.
The Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the blaze and was interviewing those who witnessed the fire. Large debris and questionable structural integrity of the building are limiting access to the area where the fire is believed to have started, the county said in a statement.
Engineers were evaluating the building Friday to determine the extent of the damage and make a decision about when people are allowed inside, Porter said.
4-Alarm Fire in Etna on Wednesday, May 8, 2019. pic.twitter.com/MUpGyR2XkC
— Nate Smallwood (@nsmallwoodphoto) May 8, 2019
The restriction about accessing the building also applies to the fire department, which has equipment inside the building, Porter said.
The fire was the largest Porter has encountered and the response to it included more than 40 different agencies and hundreds of firefighters, four of whom were hurt at the scene.
Two were treated for shortness of breath because of the noxious smoke that filled the area around Butler Street and two were burned from tar that dripped on them while fighting the fire, Porter said.
There were no other injuries, Porter said.
“All in all, I’m extraordinarily pleased we got out of the situation with only those incidents,” he said.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .