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Apartment fire leaves dozens displaced, $2 million in damages

Nearly 90 residents of a Buffalo apartment building fled into frigid early morning darkness Saturday, and many left behind a lifetime of belongings.

Janice Moore wore just a coat. She later wondered if the personal checks she wrote to cover a handful of bills would be where she left them at the kitchen table when she is allowed to return.

Bhola and Naradi Adhikari didn’t even have time to grab coats as they fled into the darkness.

“Everything we own is in the apartment,” said Naradi, who left Nepal with her husband in 2010. “We haven’t been allowed to return.”

Jose Pena mourned the loss of his English-speaking green parrot, Elmer.

“I saved the dog,” he said as he put his head on his wife’s shoulder and sighed deeply. “We’re alive, and nobody was hurt except for the bird.”

Firefighters battled intense flames for more than 12 hours at the Lafayette-Barton Apartments at Lafayette Avenue and Barton Street. Damage was later estimated at nearly $2 million.

“We still had water going into that building at 1:30 p.m.,” one fire investigator said.

Compounding the firefighters’ job were temperatures that dipped into the mid-teens, and the number of residents evacuated.

“We had a lot of people we had to account for,” Battalion Chief Peter F. Kertsie said, “so not only do we want to fight the fire, but we have to make sure we’ve got all the people out of the structure.”

An NFTA Metro Bus was called to provide immediate shelter for the residents, some of whom fled their apartments in bare feet and wearing pajamas.

The American Red Cross opened an emergency shelter inside St. John’s-Grace Episcopal Church at 51 Colonial Circle for between 60 to 90 displaced residents.

By late Saturday morning, the shelter had processed 70 people, said Jay Bonafede, chief communications officer for the Red Cross.

Thomas R. Lochner, a senior warden at St. John’s-Grace, received the call at 5 a.m. from the Rev. Judy Breng asking to him to open the church for the fire victims. Lochner said he was at the church in 15 minutes.

David Duke went to the shelter, looking for his son Derek, who texted him twice at 2:46 a.m. to alert him of the fire.

“My entire apartment building is up in flames,” Derek’s first text read. “I think I’m going to lose all of my things.”

A second text followed: “I won’t have a charger so my phone will be dead [in] the morning.”

David Duke said he knew his son was safe, he just wanted to know where.

[Gallery: Firefighters battle blaze on Lafayette apartments]


Water flows over one of the entrances at the Lafayette Barton apartments after the early morning blaze. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The blaze was reported at 1:04 a.m. in the 36-unit apartment, according to a Buffalo Fire Department.

“The fire was so intense that, when it hit the brick fire walls, it either went over them or if there were a couple of openings in the firewalls, it went through them,” Kertsie said. “That was a problem, trying to head the fire off. We made several attempts to stop it, and several times we were forced off the roof because the conditions were getting worse.”

The fire, which started in a third-floor corner apartment, was trapped between the roof and ceiling, Kertsie said.

“It was heavily involved, with the fire spreading horizontally through the cock loft -- the area between the ceiling and the roof,” Kertsie said. “We call it running the cock loft.”

No residents were injured. Three firefighters were transported to the hospital for treatment of non life-threatening injuries, said Kertsie.

Damage was pegged at $1.5 million to the building and $450,000 to its contents.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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