Blotter‎ > ‎

Fire damages commercial building in Vandergrift

posted Nov 18, 2016, 9:45 PM by Joseph Gray   [ updated Nov 18, 2016, 9:45 PM ]

Firefighters from five counties were battling a blaze in the building housing Carpenter's Cafe at 229 Longfellow Street in Vandergrift Friday evening.

By 9 p.m., a brick wall was tilting toward a vacant lot and flames had just erupted from the side of the adjoining building, once home to a chocolate factory.

Two hours after the first alarm, new fire units were speeding down the Route 56 bypass to join the battle.

The fire was fully involved at 7:20 p.m. — less than 15 minutes after the initial report to emergency dispatchers — and flames were soon rocketing at least 60 feet into the sky, visible more than a half-mile away.

Vandergrift firefighters tried to enter a front stairwell to an apartment and then tried to get through a rear entrance, but each time they were forced back by the fierce blaze.

Across the street, Vandergrift police Sgt. Steve Callipare said police were told by neighbors told no one was inside at the time of the fire.

The Leechburg fire department quint — an aerial water gun — was able to slowly beat back the flames on the roof and exterior because the unit was supplied by tanker trucks. Apollo No. 2's "telesquirt" also was used but a Washington Township quint had to wait for water from tankers.

More than 100 spectators gathered across the street at a shopping center to watch the fire. It was as big a draw as the pumpkin-themed Pokemon festival a few blocks away.

Many of the youngsters wore costumes and their parents were taking video and photos. Earlier, most had been walking behind a borough fire truck for the annual Halloween parade.

Water pressure woes complicated the attack on the buildings and struggle to save the rest of the block.

Fire chiefs put out a call for tanker trucks to be dispatched from surrounding counties because they couldn't get enough. Soon, trucks were arriving from Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Indiana counties to join those already there from Westmoreland County.

Empty tanker trucks were sent to the ATI plant a quarter-mile away and elsewhere to recharge tanks.

By then the rear of the cafe building remained on fire and threatened nearby buildings, including two houses.

Cafe owner Steve Tatar's girlfriend, Marcie Martin, said the eatery was remodeled about four years ago. Tatar wasn't available for comment.

The cafe was a staple for borough and other people, said Jerry Stanczak, who lives several blocks down Longfellow Street. "It was very nice. They had home-style food and it was very nicely presented. A shame," he said.

Officials on the scene say the cause is not yet determined.

A damage estimate wasn't available Friday night.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or