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FIREFIGHTERS BATTLE COLD AND WINDS TO PUT OUT BLAZE THAT HEAVILY DAMAGED LUMBERJACK PALLET

More than 100 firefighters battled bone-chilling cold and stiff winds early Sunday to knock down a fire that consumed a large section of Lumberjack Pallet at 108 Sommer St. in North Tonawanda.

A passer-by phoned 911 to report the fire at 4:42 a.m., fire officials said.

By the time crews arrived, flames were shooting out windows, doors and the roof, according to Assistant Chief Joseph L. Krantz.

"The manufacturing area and the office area were fully involved when we arrived," Krantz said.

Fire officials feared the possible spread to several adjacent structures, particularly to some homes on Miller Street that bordered the rear of facility.

Although a stiff breeze was blowing in that direction, fire crews were successful in limiting damage to adjacent buildings to primarily water damage, Krantz said.

"There was some exposure damage to a couple other structures," including a garage on Miller Street, Krantz said.

By the time the two-alarm fire was contained at 9:24 a.m., 125 firefighters had been involved, including five companies from North Tonawanda and mutual-aid crews from the City of Tonawanda and the St. Johnsburg, Adams and Frontier volunteer fire companies.

The only reported injuries were "a couple minor slips and falls," a North Tonawanda fire official said. "No one was hospitalized."

Investigators tentatively pegged damage to the building at $200,000.

Krantz said that, despite radio reports of propane explosions and the evacuation of a nearby apartment complex, the only evacuations he knew of were two individuals living in an apartment above a trucking company adjacent to Lumberjack.

No additional information on that evacuation was available.

Krantz said that several 20-pound propane cylinders -- apparently used in the company's lift trucks -- were stored inside the manufacturing area and ruptured during the fire.

"There was evidence that several of them exploded -- but I am under the assumption that they were empty, as we didn't get a fireball with (the explosion)," Krantz said. "They just ruptured, and that was it."

Firefighters were severely hampered by the cold, Krantz said.

"A couple of fire hydrants froze up," he said. "In a matter of minutes, everything was ice-covered, including the firefighters."

Investigators will return to the scene today to investigate the cause of the fire.

News staff reporter Karen Brady also contributed to this report

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