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Lockport fire keeps residents away from homes 14 hours later

LOCKPORT-- Theo Jenkins, a machine operator from Lockport, was preparing to go to work Wednesday evening when authorities evacuated the homes in his neighborhood because of the fire three blocks away at High Tread International tire recycling.

He sent his daughter to spend the night at her mother’s house and went to work an overnight shift on Grand Island.

[Gallery: Fire at Lockport tire recycling factory]

Thursday morning, when he got out of work Jenkins figured he’d be able to go home. But when he arrived in Lockport around 7:45 a.m., his block was still cordoned off.

Jenkins was allowed to quickly go inside his house to pick up some belongings, but he and other residents of about 200 evacuated homes were not allowed to return to their residences.

So he was hanging out Thursday morning in Willow Park, waiting the fire out, like the rest of Lockport.

Hundreds of volunteer firefighters battled through the night to contain a blaze at a tire recycling business.

Here is what is known Thursday:

* The fire is contained but not extinguished at High Tread International, in an industrial neighborhood in the west end of Lockport.

* No injuries were reported.

* Lockport fire officials said early Thursday that evacuated residents would likely not be allowed to return to their homes Thursday.

At least four structures burned, all on property owned by High Tread International, including the Upson Co., which were used for storage of tires and rubber.

[RELATED: Family fears 14-year-old is victim of fire]

More than 200 firefighters from as many as 14 fire companies were called to assist Lockport firefighters, according to Niagara County Fire Coordinator Jonathan F. Schultz. The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office said the initial alarm was sounded at 6:36 p.m.

“The status is fire is contained,” Lockport Fire Chief Patrick Brady said early Thursday. “We’re not calling it under control at this time.”

A brownish, ash-colored smoke continued to fill the air just before 9 a.m. Thursday.

Brady said fighting the blaze “taxed the water system in the City of Lockport to the max.” Water was pumped from the nearby Erie Canal, and tankers from Niagara and Orleans County were also employed. Bystanders were recruited to move fire hoses to better access the fire.

Brady said the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control would help to investigate the cause of the blaze.

No houses caught fire. A dwelling on Stevens Street next to the warehouse was in danger, but firefighters quickly wetted it down.

Firefighters battled heat and fatigue throughout the night.

The fire started in an industrial neighborhood in the west end of Lockport.

Denise Artieri of Lockport reported the fire at 6:40 p.m.

Her husband, Jeff Artieri, said he was working in his Stevens Street driveway when he spotted smoke coming from a storage garage near Harrington’s Service, a tow truck company. He told his wife to call the fire department.

“I ran down there and knocked on the door, but nobody answered. So I came back,” Jeff Artieri said.

He said the garage where he spotted smoke is a steel structure that used to be a repair shop, but he believes it is now used as a warehouse. It's located on Stevens Street, near Prospect.

Within minutes after Denise Artieri called, a Lockport fire truck appeared at the scene. After that, a steady stream of emergency personnel arrived.

The garage collapsed and flames spread to other parts of the High Tread International property, Denise Artieri said.

When the building collapsed, plumes of smoke went up over the trees in this neighborhood, which is a mix of industrial sites surrounded by homes. The Artieris and their neighbors on Stevens Street were evacuated from their homes shortly after that.

Wind blew the smoke – backlit by the crimson of the fire – to the northeast. Soot from the blaze rained on surrounding areas. The sound of a building collapsing could be heard by hundreds gathered nearby.

Residents were instructed to go to the Salvation Army building at Cottage and Walnut streets, Anna Merritt School and North Park Middle School.

Mary Ann McCuen and her daughter, Erin, 24, were evacuated at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday from their house on Webb Street and told to go to North Park Middle School. They didn't want to leave behind their two dogs, Little Bill, a bichon, and Foster, a lab mix.

“We were panicked because of the dogs,” Erin said. “We got them in our cars and left.”

They were turned away from the shelter at the North Park Middle School because of the dogs, so they spent the night at the Quality Inn on Transit Road, McCuen said.

Thursday morning, they were hanging out with their dogs in a parking lot across the street from the North Park Middle School, killing time until they could return home.

Medina resident James McMoil, a Red Cross staff member who was in charge of the shelter at the North Park Middle School, said no evacuated residents spent the night there. He said one family came, had a bite to eat, and then went to the Salvation Army shelter.

"We didn’t even set up any cots,” McMoil said.

Niagara County Auxilliary Police Assistant Chief Bob Shepherd was at Stevens and West streets Thursday morning, directing traffic away from the fire scene. He said he’d been there since 10 p.m. Wednesday and he didn’t know when he’d be relieved.

Meanwhile, curious passersby were circling the cordoned off area, pushing strollers and riding bicycles, hoping to learn more about the blaze.

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