A fast-moving fire at a commercial and apartment building at the corner of Union Street and Keyes Avenue this morning left residents displaced and businesses damaged.
The fire broke out shortly before 9 a.m. at 1625 Union St., which is home to Hot Harry’s Fresh Burritos, the Armed Forces Recruiting Center and several apartments on the upper floors.
Yasmine Hanraham, whose brother owns Hot Harry’s, said they smelled smoke. “It smelled like a wood fire burning,” she said. “I thought it was a grill.”
One of her friends called 911 and firefighters from the Schenectady, Niskayuna, Scotia and Carman departments were sent to the scene.
The cause of the fire is unknown at this time but it is believed to have originated on the upper floors of the 3 1⁄2-story building, according to Schenectady Fire Chief Robert Farstad.
“There was heavy fire that broke out through the floor of the building,” he said.
Everyone got out of the building safely and no one was injured.
Because the building is very old, he did not believe there were fire stops that prevent fires from spreading between floors. Firefighters mounted an aerial attack by dumping massive amounts of water because it was too dangerous to get inside. “The safety of firefighters is paramount,” Farstad said.
The blaze left the businesses heavily water damaged.
Debbie Smith, who lives part time in one of the upstairs units, arrived at the scene after her friend had called her. She feared that she lost her possessions. “I don’t know if it’s gone or destroyed,” she said. “It’s all I’ve got.”
She said at least her apartment was on the side of the building that was not sprayed with as much water. Smith estimated there are nine apartments with about 15 to 20 people.
Landlord Thomas Pai said he is heading back to Schenectady from Syracuse, where he was visiting friends.
“I just got a bunch of phone calls from my tenants and my friends from my street there,” Pai said.
Pai is the owner of Pai’s Academy of Taekwondo and has owned the building for only a few years.
Guy Sementilli, chairman of the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District, said part of the roof on the building has collapsed.
Calling the situation “tragic,” Sementilli said it’s the worst fire he’s seen in the neighborhood in 20 years.
“I can’t recall a fire of this magnitude in this business district for quite some time."
The last fire he can recall that was this devastating was at 1732 Union St., which is now home to a barber shop.
Sementilli said he spoke with Samir Abdallah, co-founder and president of Hot Harry’s Fresh Burritos, this morning. Just by the smoke and water damage alone, Sementilli said, he can’t imagine that the business will open any time soon.
“It’s your worst nightmare,” Sementilli said. “You work so hard to make a living and then something like this ... it’s not like you’re working a job and you got fired and you look for another job. This is your livelihood. Anything like this is very hard to rebound from. Being a small business owner I basically relate to how they’re feeling right now.”
Sementilli said the Upper Union Street BID will work with Hot Harry’s to relocate if necessary.
“We’ll do our part in supporting and just to let them know we’re here to help if there is anything we can do for them,” Sementilli said.
The building on Union Street became Hot Harry’s headquarters and recruitment center for franchisee training earlier this year.
“The upper Union Street store is tremendously successful. It’s our ‘model,’ the ‘flagship location,’ with the desired look, format, and commitment to taste, quality, value, cleanliness, and service we hold as standards as we develop our brand,” Abdallah said in August.
The company, founded in Pittsfield, Mass., has franchise stores in East Greenbush, two in Pittsfield, Mass., and one in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.