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Fire ripped through a two-story office and apartment building early Tuesday, leaving 16 people homeless and causing $300,000 damage.

Youngstown Fire Chief Eric K. Wieland said the blaze probably began early Tuesday but wasn't noticed until shortly after 6 a.m. The fire was out of control by the time firefighters from four companies arrived, said Niagara County sheriff's Deputy Jeffrey Pytlik.

The building at 241 Church St. houses 12 apartments and the Youngstown Family Medicine Center.

A resident who discovered the fire when he awoke is credited with alerting tenants, "knocking on doors from one apartment to the other," said Wieland, noting that everyone escaped uninjured.

Wieland said the fire "got inside the walls and went straight up into the eaves into the roof -- it burned the roof right off."

Volunteers from Youngstown, Ransomville, Upper Mountain and Lewiston No. 1 companies brought the fire under control at 8 a.m. and remained at the scene until 2:30 p.m.

"We were very fortunate nobody was seriously hurt," Wieland added.

The building is owned by William K. Hastings of Lower River Road.

His wife, Phyllis, said she believed about 16 people lived in the apartments and said she did not know whether her husband will rebuild.

"It's too soon to tell," she said.

She said she and her husband are very upset about the fire, but, she added, "Everybody got out and nobody was burned. That's the most important thing."

The cause of the fire is being investigated by Niagara County Fire Coordinator James C. Volkosh, Fire Investigator Pat Martin and the county Fire Investigation Unit.

Said Volkosh: "Preliminary findings indicate the fire appears to be accidental in nature, although the exact cause is still not known."

The Red Cross is assisting tenants.

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