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APARTMENT HOUSE FIRE TERMED SUSPICIOUS

A two-alarm blaze this morning in an abandoned West Side apartment house may have been intentionally set, authorities said.

The brick and wood-frame building at 294 Hudson St. has been on the city's demolition list for at least two years, according to neighbors, who described the 14-apartment structure as an eyesore.

"The fire started in the basement, and firefighters were able to put that fire out," said Battalion Chief Joseph Mehltretter. "But by that time, the fire had already rolled up the walls of the building."

The fast-moving blaze prompted fire officials to order firefighters out of the building. Using a ladder truck and pumpers, firefighters doused the flames from the outside.

A lack of utilities to the building and the fact that it was uninhabited prompted authorities to describe the blaze as suspicious in origin. An investigation into the cause was continuing.

Four firefighters suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the 5 a.m. fire. Two required treatment in Erie County Medical Center. Engine 19 Firefighter Jack Lickfeld was treated for a back injury and later released. Engine 2 Lt. Dave Zwawa also suffered a back injury and was being evaluated in the medical center.

The other two firefighters were treated at the scene and remained on duty.

"We'll be here all day. No one is going back inside that building and risk their lives," Mehltretter said.

When the fire is out, the gutted structure will be demolished, fire officials said.

It will not come soon enough for neighbors, who say they have been after the city for years to knock down the building.

"It's been vacant eight or 10 years and firefighters have been here twice to go through the building and practice, figuring there would be a fire sometime," said Leonard Pampalona, who lives next door to the apartment building. "It's been boarded up, but kids keep breaking into it."

"The city owns the building, and it has been scheduled for demolition, though there was some interest by a community group to buy it, but it needed an awful lot of repairs," said Kim Buonamici, who lives on nearby Cottage Street.

A damage estimate for the fire has not yet been determined.

Firefighters discovered the blaze when returning from a small house fire at 523 Busti Ave.

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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