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Wayne Post
  • UPDATE: Fate of historic downtown Palmyra buildings unknown; arrest expected

  • A fire that broke out Friday afternoon did massive damage to four buildings from the Erie Canal era.

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  • Police are expecting to make an arrest in connection with the devastating fire Friday afternoon in Palmyra that destroyed four historic buildings.
    Wayne County sheriff’s office officials have yet to return calls for comment for more information on the arrest.
    Meanwhile, Palmyra building officials and others are meeting Monday as well to determine the fate of the structures, which suffered massive damage from the blaze, fought for hours Friday afternoon and into the evening on Main Street.
    More information on the expected arrest and the investigation will be posted on both the MPNnow and Wayne Post websites, as well as the Daily Messenger and Wayne Post print editions.
    The day after the fire caused massive damage to the dowtown buildings, life returned to normal — sort of.
    Still, many folks were still stopping over the weekend to view the massive damage done to the Erie Canal-era buildings Friday, but traffic was moved to the north side of the street, with the street and sidewalk around the buildings cut off from the Lock 29 tavern east to Fayette Street.
    Businesses outside the fire zone were mostly open, but the smoky smell from the fire a day earlier was still strong in the air.
    "The mood in the village is sadness because so many people lost their businesses and their homes,” said Dick Beyea, owner of Pops Hots on Main Street. “But the happy part is nobody was killed."
    The building was deemed officially unsafe to occupy, and there are questions of whether they can be rebuilt or if removal is inevitable.
    According to Tricia Kuntz, who owns the Purple Painted Lady on Main Street, a young family lived in one of the second-floor apartments.
    "There's a young couple. She's literally going to have her baby — maybe today. They lived in the apartments that got totaled — they lost everything — and we're coordinating donations for them,” Kuntz said. “There are a lot of people in the community who are trying to come together to try and help some of the people who are totally displaced."
    While all occupants of the apartments were able to escape, firefighters did need to rescue a woman from the blaze.
    Firefighters were able to get inside the building and help the woman get out safely, Palmyra Fire Department spokesperson Cpt. Bobby Devlin said. She was transported to an area hospital and her condition is currently unknown.
    The blaze, which was reported around 3 p.m. Friday, was brought under control by 7 p.m., but when firefighters arrived, the flames were visible from the third story, where a woman was trapped.
    “The fire had a good head start on us,” Devlin said. “There were no fire walls, so it spread quickly through the four buildings.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Devlin said fire walls are required in new construction, but these buildings, each of which housed ground-floor businesses and two stories of apartments, were built long before the fire regulations were in effect.
    In fact, said former mayor Vicky Daly, who was on the scene Friday evening, because of the age of the buildings, the state has different building code rules.
    Beyea and others went into action when the blaze broke out.
    "I heard the whistle blow and I saw smoke coming out of the top window so I yelled for Jose, told him ‘Fire! Fire! Across the street!,’” said Beyea. “And when we went up the stars everything was full of smoke, we were banging on the door yelling and screaming, trying to wake everyone, the door was padlocked on the inside so we got an axe and we hit the door and that didn't do any good, so we went around the window, climbed on the back roof, and come to find out they were in the bathroom and by that time it was so full of smoke the police got there and everyone came down."
    Sixteen fire departments, from as far west as Fairport, as far south as Farmington, as far east as Lyons and as far north as Williamson, with upwards of 125 firefighters, were on scene battling the blaze. Three firefighters were taken to local hospitals for dehydration and heat exhaustion, Devlin said.
    Although all four buildings are still standing, they have been deemed as uninhabitable at this time until a thorough inspection can be done, Devlin said.
    The Red Cross responded to help the nine people displaced. The agency is providing food, clothing, emergency housing and other basic needs as necessary.
    Firefighters from multiple departments remained on scene Friday night putting out hot spots, but all apparatus was gone by morning. Charred debris from the buildings remained on the sidewalk over the weekend.
    “We would like to thank all the fire departments that came in mutual aid to help out,” Devlin said.
    Merchants in the buildings included Mark’s Pizzeria and Goldy’s Goodies, as well as an interfaith church and two collectible shops.
    Mark Crane, owner of Mark’s Pizzeria, owns one of the buildings, said Daly.
    Hundreds of people crowded downtown Palmyra Friday afternoon and evening as multiple fire departments responded to the fire.
    Among those watching the evening activities were former local merchants Anson Johnson, owner of the former Palmyra Pharmacy, and Dave Banks, who ran a print shop before joining the real estate field.
    Johnson wondered how much insurance the building owners have for what is expected to be major repairs on the heavily damaged buildings. That’s of course if they can be saved at all.
    Page 3 of 3 - Daly noted that Palmyra boasted one of the most intact 19th century business districts anywhere in the country.
    “And then today, that was the end of it,” she said, noting that the craftsmanship that went into the buildings, including the intricate trim at the top, called frieze, which is almost impossible to replicate.
    Daly noted the entire business district is in the National Register of Historic Places.
    She said she planned to reach out to the Landmark Society of Western New York to determine if there could be funds available to help rebuild the historic stuctures — if it’s deemed that they can be saved.
    While investigators have not officially determined the cause, the fire appeared to have started on the third floor, according to Joanne Lee, owner of Goldy's Goodies.
    Lee said the windows blew out above her when she was inside her store.
    "I was in there and I heard a big crash," she said.
    Lee said she's not sure when she'll be able to reopen. She does not have insurance.
    "My whole life is in there," she said.
    Stephanie Williams contributed to this story.

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