Investigators Determine Cause of Destructive Garage Blaze
February 04, 2015 6:15 AM
by Steve Bauer
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The fast-moving fire that swept through a State College garage, and heavily damaged a nearby building, has now been ruled accidental.

Flames roared through the service station at the intersection of South Atherton Street and West Hamilton Avenue just before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Alpha Fire Company dispatched several fire trucks as the blaze quickly went to two alarms. Flames from the garage jumped to a nearby building which houses a Pennsylvania Department of Health Clinic. The State College Food Bank used to share that building but moved out last spring, so about half of the building was unoccupied.

South Atherton was closed down for nearly two hours as firefighters battled the blaze which sent clouds of thick black smoke billowing into the sky. Employees inside the garage and at the health clinic were evacuated with no reports of injuries.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Centre County Fire Director Steve Bair told the fire began while garage employees were working on a car. "The mechanics were removing a fuel pump. They spilled gas on the floor and gas vapor ignited. There was a flash fire and it took off from there."

"I believe the gas station is a total loss," says Bair. Employees at the garage were seen inside their building late Tuesday, examining the charred debris, but they declined to comment.

Once the fire was out, the extensive damage inside the health clinic was clearly visible. The clinic, which sits only a few feet from the garage's rear wall, was a sooty mess. A black greasy smear covered office equipment and the walls. The ceiling was peppered with holes -- created when firefighters went looking for hot spots. Tattered pieces of insulation covered the floors. Employees from the health clinic spent the afternoon collecting files and loading them into their cars.

The building's landlord, University Park Plaza Corp., called in cleanup crews. "We had a company come in to board up the windows and doors," says UPP manager Kathy Stephens.

Stephens says it's too early to even take a guess at damage estimates. An insurance adjustor is expected to inspect the building on Wednesday.

Video and photos of the fire scene can be viewed below.

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