Kitchen World was destroyed by a massive fire Saturday morning, just hours before employees were preparing to celebrate the store's 30th anniversary.
Three firefighters suffered minor injuries while battling the blaze at the kitchen cabinet and appliances retailer and wholesaler at 6348 Robinson Road, just off Transit Road.
Eleven volunteer fire companies -- including more than 200 firefighters -- fought the blaze. The cause of the fire remained under investigation Saturday night. Investigators said they were trying to determine whether arson might have been to blame.
Flames broke out in the two-story building about an hour before it was scheduled to open at 9 a.m. No one was inside the building at the time.
Sam Ciraolo, a sales designer, was in a group of employees who rushed there after hearing of the fire.
"It's pretty devastating," said Ciraolo, who has worked at Kitchen World for the last four years. "It's difficult to watch this because we put a lot into remodeling the interior. . . . To see it all destroyed is just devastating."
Several witnesses called 911 at 7:56 a.m. reporting that heavy smoke was billowing out of the store.
Fire companies responding included: Rapids, South Lockport, Gasport, Cambria, Wolcottsville, Wendelville, Wrights Corners, Miller Hose, Terrys Coroners, Newstead and Clarence Center.
"When we arrived here, flames were coming through the roof," Barry Kobrin, chief of the Rapids Volunteer Fire Department, said at the scene.
"It's going to be a total loss. The entire back of the building is gone. . . . It's pretty bad in there."
Firefighters who battled the blaze used a forklift to rip the sheathing off the back of the building to gain entry.
Robert Fahs, a tow truck driver at the automotive business next door, said two delivery trucks were backed up against the rear of Kitchen World, so he and a firefighter pushed them about 40 feet away to save them from the flames. He said the windows of the trucks had been smashed and looked as if they had been vandalized.
Inside the burning building, a gas line became ruptured, Kobrin said, and officials quickly had the gas turned off.
The fire was extinguished at 9:55 a.m., officials said, but several hours later, firefighters were still working to douse smoldering spots.
By Saturday afternoon, Kitchen World was a burnt-out shell of blackened brick and mangled plaster, its remnants filled with melted, burned and water-damaged cabinets, countertops and household appliances. Several layers of soot covered furniture and appliances.
Witnesses said the store's owner, Robert Sanderson, stared in disbelief as he watched his business go up in flames.
The store opened on Robinson Road in 1974 and featured more than 50 kitchen showrooms.
Sanderson had planned to have a catered dinner party inside the store for his employees Saturday night to celebrate the store's 30th anniversary.
More than 100 employees were to attend the dinner party, then go to Shea's Performing Arts Center for a performance of the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular" starring the Rockettes.
Some store workers said the fire spurred concerns about their jobs.
Ciraolo said he has faith in his boss, and is just grateful that no one was killed in the blaze. "I'm not worried," he said. "The owner has been very generous to us, and I'm sure he'll be rebuilding in no time."
News staff reporter Henry Davis contributed to this article