BY JENNIFER TODD, Staff Writer
Investigators are trying to determine the cause of a weekend fire that caused several hundred thousand dollars in damage to the former Penn Glass Inc. building just south of Lancaster city.
The fire was reported at 11:38 p.m. Saturday; flames raged at the 905 S. Queen St. site for several hours until crews brought the blaze under control at 4 a.m. Sunday.
Lancaster Township fire Chief Ron Comfort Jr. said state police Fire Marshal James DeWalt was investigating.
Comfort declined to comment on a report that officials arriving at the fire scene discovered a door to the building had been broken.
Comfort referred all questions about the investigation to DeWalt, who could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Comfort did, however, address a report that screams were heard coming from the building prior to the arrival of firefighters. He attributed the noise to a large group of people -- possibly as many as 300 -- who were watching the fire from outside the nearby Dirty Ol' Tavern.
Firefighters found no one inside the Penn Glass building, Comfort said.
The structure had been vacant since the family business closed last fall and has been for sale since December.
Reached by phone Sunday night, former Penn Glass president Jeff Rieker -- whose father, Frank, founded the company in 1959 -- declined to comment on the fire.
Emergency crews dispatched to the area Saturday night arrived to find heavy flames and smoke at the rear of the structure, according to Comfort.
Because of the way the fire was burning, firefighters were unable to enter the building, the chief said.
Multiple ladder trucks -- Willow Street, Lancaster city and Lafayette assisted -- streamed water on the blaze from the exterior. Once the flames were knocked down, crews were able to enter and search the structure, according to Comfort.
Comfort said the building, which had been remodeled multiple times, presented a challenge to firefighters.
"There were false walls, void spaces. … It was difficult to get to at some points. It gave us a good fight."
He said the building was empty, with the exception of a pickup truck belonging to the owners that was parked in an attached carport.
About 100 firefighters battled the blaze. The last units left the area around 6 a.m. Also assisting at the scene were companies from Mountville and New Danville.
Comfort said Sunday that he didn't have an official damage amount, but he estimated the loss at several hundred thousand dollars. He said he didn't think the building was a total loss.
The blaze was the second in as many days to strike the former home of a longtime area business.
On Friday, fire caused $45,000 in damage to a West Hempfield Township building that housed Filling Cleaners, then Yorgey's & Filling's Fine Dry Cleaning until 2009, when the business moved from the site. Both firms were founded in the 1920s.
The building currently houses a woodworking shop. Friday's fire was ruled an arson by DeWalt.
In a separate weekend incident, a Lancaster city apartment building at 632 N. Queen St. was damaged after fire broke out around 11:45 a.m. Sunday.
City fire Capt. Jeff Oatman said the blaze in a third-floor unit started while the male resident was shopping.
He said a neighbor heard the smoke alarm sounding and encountered smoke in the hallway. Six or seven people who were in the building had evacuated by the time fire units arrived, Oatman said.
There are four apartments in the three-story structure. No other units were damaged.
A city fire marshal ruled the blaze accidental, Oatman said. No details about a specific cause were available.
He estimated damage at $20,000 and said the resident of the apartment was being assisted by the American Red Cross on Sunday night.
Continued from 1