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Fire chief says blaze was worst he’d ever seen

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 October 2013 at 12:00 am

‘Once it sparked there was no stopping it.’

Photo by Tom Rivers

Photos by Tom Rivers: A huge fire on Thursday broke out in a warehouse that was very close to Empire Coatings, Inc. Firefighters kept the blaze from spreading.

ALBION – Long before it was engulfed in flames on Thursday, Rocky Sidari and Albion firefighters worried about the three-story warehouse at Route 31 and Hamilton Street.

The structure is snug in a commercial district, and stands only a few feet away from Empire Coatings, Inc., a painting company that uses chemicals.

“We actually talked about this building all the time,” said Sidari, the Albion fire chief. “I always said if it burns while I’m chief I know exactly what I’m going to call. We knew when it went up it was going to be an exterior attack with ladder truck operations and that’s basically what we did. There was no interior on it, obviously.”

Firefighters from four counties used at least five ladder trucks to spray water on the building. Sidari said firefighters were told not to get too close to the structure, in case it toppled.

He was particularly worried about the east side of the warehouse next to Empire Coatings, Inc. That business uses chemicals and volatile compounds as part of its painting operation.

The warehouse had been vacant for many years until Shawn Malark bought it and used it to store wooden pallets. Malark is the owner of Orleans Pallet, which rebuilds pallets for farmers and other businesses.

The blaze at the site yesterday, caused by a spark from grinder, quickly spread as the fire feasted on all the wood and the wooden beams in a building constructed in 1901. The initial fire call went out at 4:10 p.m. and some firefighters were on the scene within a few minutes.

“We had plenty of manpower on scene,” said Paul Wagner, Orleans County’s emergency management coordinator. “But once it sparked there was no stopping it.”

The inferno spewed dark smoke that could be seen from Batavia, Spencerport and Lake Ontario. After the fire was doused after about six hours, many veteran firefighters called it the worst they had seen in Albion. The fire at the former Avon Automotive in 1999 also was a huge blaze.

Sidari helped put out the Avon fire in a rubber injected molding plant at the corner of Route 31 and Platt Street.

“I think this was worse than Avon because of the chemicals involved and all the structures in close proximity,” Sidari said. “With Avon you had a couple of houses close by. It was up fast and down fast. This one lasted a lot longer and there were a lot more things to deal with.”

Contractors and the state Department of Labor are expected to be on site this morning to develop a plan to knock down the warehouse, which remains a threat to fall on neighboring structures.

The old warehouse will be knocked down soon. It was originally the Albion Cold Storage Company.