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Wind-fueled fire ravages 3 homes in North Buffalo

Terry Dolan was in the shower late Monday morning when he heard a neighbor screaming, “The porch is on fire.”

Dolan thought it was a joke, but when he stepped from the bathroom of his first-floor apartment Monday morning in North Buffalo, he saw heavy smoke.

“I ran out of the house naked,” said the 28-year-old Dolan. He was one of 21 people who managed to escape from three homes on the first block of Crestwood Avenue in a wind-fueled, three-alarm blaze that left many of them homeless and in need of Red Cross assistance.

A young girl was burned on her arm, two people were treated for smoke inhalation, and Firefighter David J. Smith suffered a knee injury, but there was no report of any serious injuries.

Fire Division Chief Patrick M. Britzzalaro said it’s fortunate that the fire broke out when it did.

“If this had been 3 or 4 in the morning, it could have been a different story,” Britzzalaro said of the blaze that was first reported at 10:23 a.m. “This was a wind-fed fire. The wind was so intense, it started to affect the streams coming from our hoses.”

Wind gusts of up to 50 mph or more were blamed for spreading the fire from 91 Crestwood, where Dolan lived, to neighboring homes at 95 and 89 Crestwood.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Mitchell, at the airport weather station in Cheektowaga, said wind gusts at the time of the fire were between 40 and 50 mph, with a few registering even higher.

The cause remained under investigation late Monday, according to Britzzalaro, who said that more than 75 firefighters responded to the scene, just south of Hertel Avenue and a block west of Colvin Avenue.

Dolan credits his upstairs neighbor, Max Fenske, 26, with saving his life. Fenske, a construction worker, wouldn’t normally have been home.

“If it hadn’t been for Max being sent home from work on a rainy day, we’d probably be dead,” said Dolan, who lives with Adam Fenske, 28, the house’s owner and Max’s brother. “I heard the fire might have started in a couch in the upstairs apartment, but I don’t know,” Dolan said.

After Max Fenske alerted the first-floor tenants, he hurried to his second-floor apartment in an attempt to save his two cats, but it is believed that the animals didn’t make it out.

“Adam grabbed his work laptop and managed to get out of the house,” Dolan said.

Dolan didn’t have time to grab anything. “People were giving me clothes after I ran out,” Dolan said.

While there were no serious injuries, there was plenty of misery in the icy, rainy winds mixed with heavy smoke. Standing in his pajamas and a jacket, Eugene “Pete” Herbert wept as he watched firefighters lose the battle to save his home. He had lived in the first-floor apartment at 95 Crestwood with his wife, Audra, who has a medical condition.

“I heard crackling sounds, and that’s what woke me up,” Herbert said. “I looked out my living room window, and the house next door was on fire.”

Audra Herbert was treated by a Rural/Metro Medical Services crew at the scene.

Three young sisters escaped from the second-floor apartment of the Herberts’ house. “The girls came in here crying. The little one had a burn on her arm,” said Purna Tanana, a Hertel convenience store clerk.

Nore Aldridge, 7, was taken to Women & Children’s Hospital, where she was treated for a minor burn to her left forearm, said her mother, Shaun- cey Galarza. She and her husband were at work when the fire started. The other daughters, Dahqua Cious, 16, and Aria Jones, 10, were unharmed.

“My daughters told me that the house next door started the fire. I’m just grateful they got out OK. Nore has a little burn on her left arm,” said Galarza.

Damage was estimated at $225,000 each to 91 and 95 Crestwood, 2½-story homes that will have to be demolished, Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. said. He said 89 Crestwood, with $90,000 in damage, can be fixed.

“It was a successful operation in terms of life; property is secondary,” Whitfield said of the assistance that firefighters provided in leading some of the residents to safety. “With the winds, we could not save 95 or 91 Crestwood, so firefighters focused on saving 89 Crestwood.”

Steve Samuel, who resides with his wife and children in a second-floor apartment at 89 Crestwood, said he was grateful they made it out safely.

A total of 10 people resided at 89 Crestwood, four at 91 Crestwood and seven at 95 Crestwood, according to Carol Loschiavo, who has lived on Crestwood for 49 years.