A commercial building on Guilderland Avenue that included a pizza shop, T-shirt business and offices was destroyed by a fast-moving fire Tuesday morning that sent smoke billowing over the town and closed two major roads into the afternoon.
The fire was reported at about 9:50 a.m. from the 4 Corners Pizza, officials said. The pizza business and First Class Products, a T-shirt and novelty business in the same building, were destroyed along with offices for a paving company, a motorcycle club and one apartment.
Paul Drago, a cook with 4 Corners, said he was going about his morning routine preparing for the day’s business when he smelled smoke. He went to the back room to investigate.
“It was engulfed in flames,” Drago said, standing across Guilderland Avenue from the site where firefighters were battling the flames. “It’s devastating,” he said later.
Drago said he was the only one inside when the fire broke out. No injuries were reported.
One resident was also in the apartment in the building, fire officials said. That resident also got out uninjured.
Streets around the scene, including the major corridors of Guilderland Avenue and Curry Road, were shut down so fire trucks could be parked and hoses snaked across the roadways. Traffic was detoured around the site.
Firefighters from a half-dozen companies sprayed water on the building. The roof quickly collapsed.
The fire initially put out smoke, then the flames broke through the roof. As crowds gathered in the vicinity, flames could be seen swirling up from the opened structure. Smoke billowed upward and at times it hung low over the street.
Temperatures hovered in the 80s, making it difficult for firefighters in their heavy gear, county Fire Coordinator John Nuzback said.
“We’re calling in a lot of help [because of] the weather,” Nuzback told reporters Tuesday morning as firefighting efforts continued. “We’re calling in assistance from the Glenville area and everywhere else.”
The fire was difficult to fight because of the old construction and false ceilings, Nuzback said. The building appeared to be a total loss, he said, “but we’ll have to wait and see what happens when the smoke clears.”
The fire burned into the afternoon. Investigators weren’t able to start their work until 6 p.m., Nuzback said. The cause was unknown.
The pizza business was owned by a group of individuals that included Gerard Parisi, a Town Board member and local attorney.
Parisi said he received text messages all day but couldn’t make it out to the site because he was at trial.
The pizza shop was about four years old and had built a good customer base, Parisi said. “Hopefully, we can get it back up and running,” Parisi said. But whether that was possible, Parisi didn’t know. The business employed up to 10 people.
The building was owned by Michael Putorti, who ran First Class Products, the T-shirt printing business that was also destroyed.
The property adjacent to the building had been the focus of efforts by CVS to build a pharmacy. CVS purchased the dilapidated mixed-use building on the corner of Guilderland Avenue and Curry Road in 2008. The company hasn’t indicated its intentions to develop the property but took preliminary steps to demolish the building.
Rotterdam officials have indicated that the quarter-acre property is too small for the size of the pharmacy.
Parisi said his understanding was that the building the pizza shop had been in was not a barrier to the CVS plan.
Tuesday’s fire appeared contained to the one large commercial building, but at least one house on Lawndale Avenue was ordered evacuated as a precaution.
Joann Livingston said she was putting the garbage out when a passerby drew her attention to smoke from the adjacent pizza building. Police soon came to warn her to get out.
She watched the billowing smoke from outside her car on Lawndale, her mixed breed dog, Jesse, at her side.
She said Jesse was the first thing she grabbed. “I got her out first. She’s probably my most precious belonging,” Livingston said. Jesse started barking at a passerby. Livingston admonished her to mind her own business.
Livingston also recounted having time to grab paperwork and things she thought were important.
Livingston then paused. She feared smoke damage to the home. She believed all the windows and doors were closed.
There were also other items she feared losing, if the worst happened.
“You can replace the house, you can replace the contents, but you can’t replace the photographs and the sentimental family things,” she said.