NATRONA HEIGHTS (KDKA) – Allegheny County Fire Marshal Don Brucker says the tentative cause for a fire that swept through a Natrona Heights shopping plaza Monday night is electrical.
The blaze started around 9:40 p.m. in a shopping plaza on Union Avenue, between Princeton Avenue and Broadview Boulevard.
Brucker believes it started in the building façade between the J&S Pizza Shop and a sleep study clinic that was preparing to open for business on Friday. Damage to the buildings was not as serious as first thought, and some of the businesses could reopen in a week.
The fire rekindled around 6:30 a.m., but the flames were small compared to what roared through the shopping landmark hours before.
“We have several businesses involved in the fire with heavy damage in the front of the structures in the facade area,” Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson said.
The fire tore along the front of the strip mall and destroyed or damaged 12 businesses.
“I thought it would only be one or two stores. It’s the whole strip,” Alyson Ropone said.
Daybreak brought a parade of stunned onlookers, but it was especially stunning for business owners.
“We have a lot of smoke damage. We have a lot of soot covering everything in the bar from what I saw last night,” Harrison’s Bar Owner Rich Seifert said. “This is my busiest month of the year. I had actually two large parties scheduled today and I apologize to those people, but what can I do?”
At J&S Pizza, there was a rush to get roughly $15,000 in food out before it spoils. The enormously popular pizza shop’s owner was too upset to talk on camera.
He needs to find a new place to operate quickly or he’ll have to go out of business.
He’s not alone in that regard.
“It would be very difficult for me to open with the plaza looking like this,” Seifert said. “We’re here every day working and I’m sure each and every one of them will recover.”
That would be welcome news to loyal customers, who see this place as someplace more than a place to shop.
Three firefighters had to be taken to the hospital, but their injuries are believed to be minor.
No one else in the strip mall was injured and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.