Little Italy fire shutters, moves 11 | News, Sports, Jobs


Saranac Lake’s Little Italy restaurant was in poor condition Wednesday after a propane heater fire in an apartment on the building’s third floor triggered the sprinkler system and flooded the building. The structure was saved, but the restaurant and apartments cannot be occupied for a while. (Business Photo – Aaron Cerbone)

LAKE SARANAC – A fire sparked by a suspected malfunction of a propane heater in an apartment above Little Italy threatened to set the building ablaze early Wednesday morning, and although the internal sprinkler system saved the building, he also flooded it in the process, moving the residents of six apartments there and closing the pizzeria for the time being.

“Thank goodness the sprinkler system worked,” said Paolo Magro, owner of the building and Little Italy. “Everyone is safe. It is the most important. Thank God. … The (repairs on the) building, as I understand it, are not easy, but everyone is safe.

The Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department responded to 23 Main Street at 12:34 a.m. Wednesday with two trucks and 10 members for a “serious” fire spitting from a propane wall heater on the third floor.

There was a sprinkler just above the radiator, which put out the majority of the fire and kept it from spreading, SLVFD chief Brendan Keough said.

“It was a good result” he said. “I credit the sprinkler system with saving lives. I think the result would have been very different without it. … It worked perfectly.

The tenant of the apartment where the fire started was treated by the Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Team at the scene for minor burns sustained to his face and legs, Keough said, and the person refused transport to the hospital.

While firefighters were in the apartment, the propane heater kicked back in and reignited, shooting flames into the ceiling.

“It was basically like a blowtorch or a flamethrower coming out of the top of it,” said Keough. “Imagine a jet engine. Not to the volume of a jet engine, but there was quite a bit of volume. … It wasn’t a lazy fire.

Keough said firefighters turned off the gas, which immediately extinguished the fire.

SLVFD driver Rick Yorkey said firefighters believed there was a malfunction in the radiator.

Outside, they turned off the propane tanks, and Keough said he shut down the sprinkler system as soon as possible to minimize water damage.

Keough said there was very little fire and smoke damage, but lots of water damage. He said it was impressive to see the sprinklers pouring water, effectively slowing the fire.

The system saved the building, but flooded all floors, including the basement. The entire building is now temporarily unoccupied. Keough said he contacted the American Red Cross in the middle of the night and everyone who lived there found a place to spend the night, whether at a hotel or with friends and family.

According to a press release from the Red Cross. This includes seven adults and four children, aged 1, 6, 8 and 10.

An additional family will receive services today, according to the Red Cross, and volunteers will help those affected by the fire in the coming days, “as they navigate the path to recovery.”

Members of the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department stood at the SLVFD station. Firefighters resumed service at 2:50 a.m.

Yorkey said firefighters used some water to douse hot spots.

He said two apartments and the restaurant suffered the worst damage.

“There is a lot of damage” said Magro.

Inside the restaurant the droopy slab ceiling tiles had disintegrated and fell on all the tables. In the basement, employees scooped water into dustpans and emptied the floor of large puddles. Magro said Wednesday morning the water was ankle deep.

He said teams will have to cut out almost all of the wood from the walls and ceiling. He can’t stay in there. Wood doesn’t dry out easily, he says, and if it stays wet, it weakens its structural integrity. Magro estimated that about 95% of the walls and ceilings, all wood, were soaked.

He said he wasn’t sure if the kitchen equipment was still in working order. They plan to wait a few days for the water to dry up before turning the electricity back on.

Downstairs, employees were sorting ingredients and supplies, discarding water-contaminated items, and storing anything that was still dry.

On Wednesday, Magro was waiting for a response from his insurance company before he could think about rebuilding. He said he was contacting contractors to start work, but “everyone is busy” and he was hearing from some contractors that they would not be available for months.

He has owned the building and the pizzeria at 23 Main Street for 22 years.

“It’s my life,” said Magro.

He said he was grateful to the firefighters, rescue team and village police who responded.

“Thank you to the community, from Paolo, Bonnie (his wife) and his family”, said Magro. “Hopefully we’ll be back soon, but we don’t know how long we’ll be closed.”

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