Heat and flooring chemicals caused a Dumpster fire that touched off a blaze at the former Bellevue Hardware building and caused a major roof collapse Friday afternoon.
South Schenectady Chief Michael France said the late afternoon heat caused a spontaneous combustion of wood scraps and residual chemicals in containers discarded in a Dumpster used by Alden Floor Service at 2699 Broadway. Flames quickly engulfed the Dumpster and spread up to the second story roof, which then ignited.
“No one was at fault on this one,” France said after the fire was extinguished.
Firefighters were called around 2:30 p.m. and attempted to fight the fire by venting the roof. But about an hour into the battle, firefighters on the roof began to notice signs of a collapse, prompting France to order a swift evacuation of the building.
“We knew what was happening,” France said. “We had our eyes on it.”
All firefighters were safely out of the way before the roof caved in, and there were no injuries resulting from the fire. Schenectady County Fire Coordinator John Nuzback credited the lack of injuries to the chief and his crews.
“It was a very good call,” he said from the scene.
The warehouse portion of the L-shaped building was empty at the time because all of the Alden workers were on a job. There were several employees evacuated from A-1 Quality Printing, a retail shop located in the building’s storefront on Broadway.
Several patrons at Boscia’s Liquor Discount House across the street on Broadway spotted the Dumpster fire and called 911. Derek Labutta, an employee at the liquor store, said he watched as flames from the Dumpster quickly spread to the building’s roof.
“All of a sudden — poof — it picked up and the roof was on fire,” he said. “And there are a lot of chemicals and wood products in there.”
France said his crew was on the scene about 10 minutes after the call came in and quickly radioed for help from surrounding companies. The attic area of the building was filled with kiln-dried wood, adding to the fire load.
About a quarter mile of Broadway — a major road between Rotterdam and Schenectady — was closed for more than four hours as crews battled the blaze. The fire drew six companies from around the area, including the Schenectady Fire Department, and was knocked down in about an hour and a half.
The building is owned by Peter and Gregory Alden, according to county property records. An individual identified by firefighters as one of the owners declined to comment at the scene.
Bellevue Hardware & Electric occupied the location from the early 1950s until the 1990s. The Aldens purchased the property in April 2000, according to county records.
About three quarters of the building’s roof caved in, prompting fears the building itself could topple. Building Inspector Mickey Maher said a structural engineer was called to make an assessment on the structure today.
“That’s the initial reason,” he said. “The status of it and whether it has the potential to collapse.”
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