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Big blaze on Tuscarora Reservation destroys gift shop, propane station

Hula hoop-sized dream catchers hanging outside the door let people know when the Mount Pleasant Native American Gift Shop on the Tuscarora Reservation was open for business.

The dream catchers and two buildings at the business site at 2401 Saunders Settlement Road are gone -- destroyed Tuesday by fast-moving fire.

Also destroyed was the Tuscarora Propane filling station, owned by William Farnham Sr., who also owns Tuscarora Roofing Co., which has a warehouse and trucks to the rear of the station.

"The warehouse was saved, but the paint was damaged on some of the trucks and their plastic headlights melted," said Ed Farnham, president of the business his father started in 1967.

"It's a tragedy, but we are thankful that there wasn't more damage, especially with the [1,000-pound] propane tank right here. There could have been a lot more damage. We are saddened, but we will recover," Ed Farnham said.

The senior Farnham, 77, quietly surveyed the destruction later Tuesday.

Elaine Mount Pleasant, who rents space for the gift shop from the Farnhams, said her family grew up in her store.

"This was Grandma's place," Mount Pleasant said.

"People that loved the Indian craft would come in here, and they knew me and knew the crafts I carried. I made a lot of the crafts myself."

The fire destroyed works of native art and her grandson's native dance regalia, including a headdress of eagle feathers and hand-sewn beadwork on leather that she had done herself.

"I had soapstone carvings -- a soft stone which can be carved. What's sad about that is that the carver who did over half of the carvings in there [Wayne Sky,] just passed away four months ago. He did beautiful work," Mount Pleasant said.

"We are all still in shock," she said.

Nearly every volunteer fire company in Niagara County, as well as firefighters from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, responded to the raging fire.

Firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to two gas stations -- Smokin' Joe's and Gail's Smoke Shop -- in addition to the large propane tank directly in the path of the fire.

No firefighter injuries were reported.

Chief Tom Hoover of the Sanborn Volunteer Fire Department, one of the first on the scene, noted both businesses were on fire when he arrived at 1:45 a.m.

"It wasn't going fully, but then it took off," Hoover said. "It wasn't long before it went right through [both businesses]."

Hoover said the cause of the fire remained under investigation. It appeared to have started in a roof or attic, Farnham said.

Both businesses were considered a total loss. A dollar amount had yet to be calculated.

Volunteers from Sanborn, Lewiston 1 and 2, Niagara Active, Upper Mountain, Bergholz, St. Johnsburg and Shawnee, plus air reserve station firefighters, had the fire under control in about 40 minutes and were on the scene cleaning up until just before 6 a.m.

Cambria, Wendelville, Ransomville and Youngstown volunteers provided backup, and Tri-Community Ambulance was at the scene.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com

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