A man was killed in a fire Monday morning that destroyed four apartments above a vacant store in the Pine Avenue business district.
Michael R. Molnar, 43, was pronounced dead in the hallway of the apartment level at 1818 Pine Ave. at 10:30 a.m. by Coroner James A. Joyce. The cause of death was smoke inhalation.
Joyce said Molnar either never left the burning building or went back into it.
Adjacent businesses and apartments, including Miss Bev's Dance Studio on the west side and E.G. Tax on the east side, were spared from damage because of heavy brick walls and the quick response by fire crews, who had the blaze out 15 minutes after it was reported at 8:42 a.m.
Battalion Chief Nicholas Vilardo was on the scene immediately, learning of the blaze on his radio while he was having breakfast across the street.
Vilardo said that when he heard the call, he rushed across the street and tried to get up the stairs but was pushed back by smoke.
Pumpers and ladders were on the scene within two minutes, and crews quickly brought it under control, despite flames shooting out of the upper windows, as well as frozen hydrants, which delayed firefighters for a few minutes. Pumpers with backup water were used until hydrants could be unfrozen.
Three other men who lived on the apartment level were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation. Two of the men were able to climb out a window onto the roof of the dance studio. One man escaped by climbing out his window and into a window of an apartment next door, above E.G. Tax.
Fire Investigator Robert Serpa said the cause of Monday's fire was under investigation.
He said a call came in on a cell phone, reporting a couch fire that began in Molnar's apartment. Serpa was unable to say whether it was Molnar who called in the report.
"It's a good thing the roofs are so close, since the men couldn't get out into the hallway," Serpa said. "The walls are double brick and old plaster; it was a good firebreak."
Bambi Fuez, who runs the dance studio, said that there were no classes in progress when the fire started. The studio incurred only minor smoke damage.
"We practice getting out all the time, but it's another thing to have it really happen," Fuez said after hearing about the fire. "Your life flashes before you in five minutes."
Fuez praised Vilardo for getting the situation under control so fast.
The vacant downstairs business was formerly the Beacon Christian Bookstore, but it moved to the Outlets at Niagara Falls USA Mall 10 months ago.
Vilardo said total damage to the building was estimated at $50,000.