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February 4, 2014

Meadville police chief: Chestnut Street fire cause 'undetermined'

MEADVILLE — As demolition continues, the cause of the fire that destroyed the 12-unit apartment building at the corner of Chestnut and Liberty streets in downtown Meadville exactly a week ago today has been officially ruled “undetermined.”

Meadville Central Fire Department Chief Larndo (Tunie) Hedrick said Monday that while he and his inspection team were able to enter parts of the building, a partial structural collapse involving the three-story brick building’s third floor and part of its second floor kept them from conducting the kind of investigation that might have enabled them to determine a cause.

“We couldn’t do as through an investigation as we would have liked because we weren’t going to risk injury to get down to parts of the building,” Hedrick told the Tribune.

Today and Wednesday, Walgreens drug store on North Street in Meadville hosts a donation drive to benefit victims of the 390 Chestnut St. fire. Household items, including laundry soap, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, kitchen utensils and more can be purchased at the store or dropped off. All donations will be sent to Center for Family Services for distribution, according to assistant store manager Matthew Simonette.

Scheduled events include a live COOL 101.7 broadcast today from 10 a.m. to noon and visits from Meadville firefighters today from 1 to 4 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Donations are also being accepted at locations including Crawford County Humane Society Thrift Store, 904 Park Ave., and United Way of Western Crawford County, 415 Chestnut St., both Meadville, Pa. 16335.

According to Project Manager Don Nold of Meadville Area Water Authority, an estimated 800,000 gallons of water was pumped onto the Jan. 28 fire, which had been reported around 5:50 p.m. With air temperatures hovering at zero and below, more than 15 fire companies from Crawford and Venango counties had either been at the scene or standing by to cover for any additional fire calls in western Crawford County by the time the last firefighters left the scene shortly before 1 a.m. Jan. 29. Before daylight, firefighters had returned to the scene twice to apply additional water. Demolition started Friday; early that evening, firefighters were called back to the rekindled ruins.

“They came in with backhoes and moved debris around so we could really wet it down,” Hedrick said.

In comparison to the 800,000 gallons of water pumped during the seven-hour battle against the blaze, MAWA provides approximately 2 million gallons during each 24-hour day to its customers in Meadville and the surrounding area. Nold noted that the 4.5 million gallon capacity of MAWA’s Highland reservoir allowed firefighters access to a continuous supply of water.

In terms of both the size of the blaze and the amount of water used, Hedrick and Nold agreed that the Chestnut Street blaze ranks high among the largest local fires in recent memory.

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