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Buffalo firefighters battle four back-to-back blazes in freezing temps

A three-alarm fire at an auto repair shop.

A house fire set off by someone trying to thaw their frozen pipes with a blow torch.

A dryer fire.

Then another house fire that left two firefighters with facial burns.

Add to that temperatures so cold that icicles dangled from firefighters' eyebrows and fire hoses were getting stuck to hydrants and trucks.

It was a busy and treacherous night for Buffalo firefighters.

"It's very tough," said Interim Fire Commissioner Vincent Muscarella. "Obviously, with the cold weather, things freeze. Everything moves in slow motion."

Firefighters already lug 100 pounds of gear while fighting fires. When the gear gets wet, it can freeze solid, Muscarella said.

The best defense is to stay in motion.

"If you stop moving, you freeze," he said. "They literally will freeze."

The same goes for the hoses, which can easily freeze.

"You just need to keep the water flowing," Muscarella said, just like water pipes that can freeze and burst.

"It's definitely a challenge," Muscarella said. "Just like it's a challenge to fight in 90 degree weather."

A fire at 586 Tonawanda St., touched off the back-to-back blazes. Reported at about 8 p.m., the fire was in a one-story building that houses an automotive repair business as well as an apartment. The fire spread to two houses on either side. Two adults and three children who live at 586 Tonawanda were being assisted by the Red Cross as well as four adults who live at 590 Tonawanda.

With several cars stored inside the repair shop and the fire spreading quickly, the fire was declared a three-alarm. Seventy firefighters were on the scene with nine engine trucks and nine ladder trucks, fire officials said.

The fire caused $350,000 in damage at 586 Tonawanda, $20,000 to 582 Tonawanda and $18,000 at 590 Tonawanda and to a car at the location, where a wall fell on the car that was parked in the driveway, fire officials said.

That blaze was extinguished at about 11 p.m.

While firefighters battled that blaze, on the other side of the city at 69 Butler Ave., other firefighters were able to contain a dryer fire. Damage there was limited to $600.

Then at 11:30 p.m., just as fire crews had finished at the auto repair shop, a fire was reported at a house at 483 Tonawanda where someone was trying to thaw their frozen pipes with a blow torch. The damage was estimated at $2,000.

How to avoid common weather woes in bitter cold temperatures

A fourth fire broke out just before 2 a.m., at 51 Winter St. Two firefighters suffered burns to their face battling this blaze at the 2 1/2-story  home. No one was home at the time of the fire.

The firefighters were treated at Erie County Medical Center. That fire caused $75,000 in damage.

All of the fires appear to be accidental, Muscarella said.

Throughout the night, the Fire Department used their "mass casualty rig" as a warming station for the firefighters. They would work 20 minutes outside fighting the fire, then come inside the rig to warm up, Muscarella said.

"The Salvation Army always send their canteen trucks and they have hot coffee and hot chocolate," Muscarella said.

The three-alarm fire was spreading so quickly that Muscarella said addtional firefighters were called in from home to relieve the crews.

The city Public Works Department provided additional help, bringing in salters to melt accumulating ice.  They also brought in large propane heaters to thaw fire equipment.

Firefighters on the scene of a fire at 51 Winter St. early Thursday morning. (David F. Kazmierczak/Special to The News)

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