Thick black clouds of smoke filled the sky above Erie County on Monday April 11 coming from El Grande Enterprise on the 1300 block of West 20th and Cranberry Streets, as bystanders questioned where it came from.
Many citizens of Erie County could see the smoke from miles away, some also decided to follow the smoke. “I was down at Hamot visiting my dad and I could see and smell smoke there,” said Zach Kuhn, Deputy Chief at Belle Valley Fire Department in Millcreek Township.
Eventually Erie County Public Safety discovered not one, but three fires burning downtown, giving an explanation for the large amount of smoke seen around the city. The fire at El Grande Enterprises caused another fire at an industrial building on West 18th and Cranberry Streets. The third fire was located on East 32nd Street but was not caused by the main fire.
The first call for the El Grande Enterprise fire came in about 3 p.m., Engine 6 from Erie Fire Department was first to arrive on scene said Maggie Burrows, telecommunications dispatcher at Erie County Public Safety. At that time, multiple 911 calls were going into the telecommunication center making it hard to have available fire departments to help the citizens in need.
Erie Fire Department has a total of seven on duty fire trucks per shift. Due to the large fire and other calls going on, all of their rigs were at the West 20th Street fire. Departments from surrounding townships and other parts of the county were called in to help the Erie Fire Department battle the fires.
All firefighters from volunteer Millcreek Township fire departments were dispatched to report to their stations and standby.
“We had to utilize the county and Millcreek fire departments to cover the other calls that were in the city of Erie. Without the other dispatchers help, the fire calls that day would’ve been impossible,” Burrows said.
West Ridge Fire Department’s Tower 479 was called to assist Erie Fire Department at El Grande Enterprises.
About ten to fifteen minutes later, it was reported that the West 20th Street fire spread to an asphalt building on West 18th Street. First to arrive on scene at West 18th Street was Chief 360, of the Belle Valley Fire Department on the east side of Millcreek Township. Belle Valley, Kearsarge, West Lake, West Ridge, Lake Shore, Brookside, and Lawrence Park fire departments, all outside of the city of Erie, were on scene at West 18th Street.
Bystanders and students from Cathedral Prep who were watching the fires helped firemen move the hoselines. Kuhn said the citizens were “a huge help, it was awesome to see and hear about.”
“Due to the amount of fire and damage to the structural integrity of the building, including collapse, we were unable to make access to do a search,” Kuhn said, but he reported that there were no injuries.
There is an ongoing investigation for the cause of the fire. Investigators said there were more than 19 truck loads of mattresses in the building.
Erie Fire Department is still on scene putting out hotspots while construction crews tear down what is left of the building. A fire rekindled on Tuesday April 12 in the wreckage but Erie Fire Department had the fire under control.