Firefighters Continue Battling Major Allentown Warehouse Fire
More than 14 hours after fire erupted in a vacant Allentown warehouse, firefighters continue to battle flames and are wary the vast brick and timber building could collapse. Around 5:45 a.m. Monday, firefighters on emergency radio spoke of a “collapse zone” now established around the building on the 400 block of North Franklin Street, near the intersection of 15th and Gordon streets. The blaze was reported in the former storage building about 6:30 p.m. Sunday and Allentown fire officials immediately called for a full response of 35 city firefighters and backup from neighboring communities around Lehigh County, fire Capt. John Christopher said. One firefighter suffered burns to his hands and was taken to Lehigh Valley Hospital — Cedar Crest, Christopher said. He said firefighters experienced heavy fire and could hear floors collapsing inside the building, raising worries that the entire building could collapse. Flames were still visible through a third-floor window at 7 a.m. Monday as a pall of acrid smoke covered the neighborhood. Firefighters in a ladder truck aimed a hose at the tower atop the building painted with a sign for a former business, Franklin Square Outlet Center. The water was powerful enough to scour the paint away. A Wawa convenience store and a neighboring gas station were open for business, though only to foot traffic. The gas pumps at the Gulf station were shut off. Two firefighters said the building was far too dangerous to enter. One said the structural changes inside over the years made the interior “a labyrinth.” The building was the scene of a two-alarm blaze in May when a pallet company and a library furniture company occupied the first and second floors. Although authorities cordoned off the blocks of North 14th, North 15th, Liberty and Gordon streets around the fire, only one home was evacuated due to smoke, Christopher said. In the first hours of the fire Sunday, hundreds of people in the neighborhood gathered in the parking lot of the Wawa and sidewalks nearby to watch as heavy, dark smoke and flames billowed from the building’s windows. Water from fire hoses cascaded from the roof of an adjacent one-story structure as fire crews used remote controlled nozzles atop ladder trucks to aim streams through the windows. Developer and former mayoral candidate Nat Hyman owns the building, Hyman confirmed. He said the building had been slated for redevelopment as 60 apartments before the fire. He said the building was frequently vandalized and entered by trespassers despite his efforts to secure it. “We do everything we’re supposed to do,” he said at the scene Sunday night. The building was not insured and is likely a total loss, Hyman said, lamenting “hundreds of thousands” that he had spent on engineering and architectural studies and calling the blaze “just disastrous.” Neighbors said the building had housed various businesses including a furniture company, a U-Haul location and a computer repair company. Frank Riley, who lives near the fire scene, said the building has been largely vacant four or five years. Greg Gleaton, who lives several blocks away, said the building has been a nuisance. “You get people who go in there and get high,” Gleaton said. A fire broke out in the building on May 4. A neighbor reported the fire about 9:15 p.m. and fire crews quickly called for a two-alarm response as heavy smoke poured from windows on the first and third floors. A pallet company, Roberts Pallets, operated on a section of the ground floor. J.P. Jay Associates, a library furnishings supplier, also rents storage space on the southern end of the ground floor. The second, third and fourth floors of the building were vacant at the time of the May fire.. J.P. Jay was storing tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment for a new library in Delaware, employee Tim Lynn said. A delivery was planned for later that month, but given the smoke coming from the southern end of the building, Lynn worried the furnishings were destroyed. Christopher said he had no information about the cause of Sunday’s fire and did not expect to receive any information from fire marshals Sunday. Firefighters were expected to stay on the scene all night into Monday morning.
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