ETNA (KDKA) — It will likely be several days before civilians are allowed to check on their cars, motorcycles and storage unit inside a large storage warehouse in Etna where a seven-alarm fire broke out Wednesday afternoon.

Across Butler Street from the self-storage warehouse, Michelle Ricci was desperate as she tried to get answers from Etna Police. The prospect that a family heirloom was damaged or destroyed in the fire was very real and very troubling.

A red Cutlass has been part of Ricci’s family for nearly 50 years, and for her, it was more than an automobile that was housed in the STORExpress warehouse.

“My father died two years ago, and he left me his most prized possession for my sons. It’s a 1971 Cutlass convertible … Of course I have insurance. I could care less about that. I just really need to know if my dad’s car is OK,” Ricci told KDKA News.

There were storage units on the ground floor of the block-long warehouse for things like household goods and construction materials. The second floor, which partially collapsed, housed as many as 150 or more vehicles, including motorcycles and every size and make of car imaginable, some classics, others antiques.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Dylan Pete, of Shadyside, watched the fire from across the street.

“My family and I, we keep a couple of cars over here. It’s really unfortunate what happened. I don’t know the state of the cars. I’m assuming the worse, hoping for the best,” he said.

Because so many people rented space, many of the contents of the storage units were not known.

Watch Susan Koeppen’s report —

 

In addition to serving as storage for cars and motorcycles, the building also housed a workshop for local artists. A couple that ran their business there likely lost all of the equipment they need for their jobs.

“I’m a machinist, welder. I have a lot of industrial sewing equipment in there,” Joe Martin said.

Martin has worked out of the building for about three years. His office is there, along with a lot of his equipment.

“We have a lot of jobs coming up over the summer that helps hold us over the rest of the year because summertime’s a busy time,” artist Oreen Cohen said.

Martin couldn’t hold back tears while talking about the devastation. He says he was inside the building when the fire started.

“I was working with the garage door open. I heard a couple big booms. I looked back around me and just saw very heavy black soot, like a cloud just billowing in over the garage door, on the inside, over the walls,” Martin said.

Martin escaped the fire through a garage door to the outside of the building. He says he didn’t hear any alarms going off.

This isn’t the first tragedy for Martin; last summer, his home in Millvale was flooded by heavy rains.

“Still working on recovering from that and then… I thought this place was gonna be safe,” Martin said.

Martin’s work truck and car were also parked at the building, but he hasn’t gotten a chance to see them yet. He says he has insurance, but he’s not sure if it will cover the full amount of the damage.

Ralph Iannotti