The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said a fire that destroyed or heavily damaged about a dozen businesses at a popular Natrona Heights strip mall caused at least $10 million damage.
Channel 11 News was there as crews battled huge flames at the Heights Plaza. Fire officials said the blaze started around 10 p.m. Monday near J&S Pizza.
The UPMC Natrona Heights multi-specialty building also went up in flames and collapsed, officials said. Several other nearby businesses were damaged.
People who live in the area said the plaza is a landmark of sorts.
"This was a great place. It was the center of the town. It's where we grew up. Everybody came and met. It's just sad to see this happen," said John Harrocks.
Officials said despite what it looks like from the outside, many of the businesses weren't badly damaged. The owner of J&S Pizza said he was able to salvage some of his food and he should be able to save the ovens.
The plaza is filled with mostly small businesses, like Harrison's Bar and Grill. The owner said the fire could not have happened at a worse time.
"This was my busiest time of year. I had two large parties scheduled today. I apologized to them, but what can I do?" said Rich Siefert, owner of Harrison's Bar and Grill.
Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, the fire rekindled, but firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the flames.
The worst of the damage was to an old Macy's store, which is now a UPMC medical office.
Siefert said he feels bad for all of the business owners affected and especially for his employees.
"I have one bartender that was working for a Barbie Dream House for her daughter," Siefert said. "I do have insurance for employee wages but I need to see at what level that all kicks in."
Channel 11's Dave Bondy reported that three firefighters were taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for minor injuries.
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