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Lackawanna fire dousing hopes for new business

WBFO's Mike Desmond

The massive smoke plume rising above the old Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna is a blow to city plans to use buildings on the site.

Lackawanna Development Director Fred Heinle says the towering structures from the old rolling mill complex are perfect for many uses - working cranes inside, very high ceilings, very large doors - and more and more companies were moving into the space and starting to add jobs.

Then, things went wrong Wednesday morning. There will be major demolitions and plans are already in the works for new structures. Heinle says the fire hurts.

"It puts a little hurdle in our plans moving forward," Heinle says. "We have a new owner of this particular building over the last year who's done a great job attracting industry and jobs to the site. He's working with us on a number of initiatives here in Lackawanna. Whatever he needs, we're going to be there to help him out, but this certainly is a setback to our overall plans."

Authorities say a hot light bulb that fell onto cardboard has sparked the massive blaze. Heinle says the buildings were in complete compliance with fire codes a year ago, when Great Lakes Industrial Development took over buildings covering six city blocks from former steel company Acelor-Mittal.

"It was inspected within the last year when this new company took over and, unless they make major changes to the structure, we can't impose new fire instrumentation," Heinle says, "but the fire hydrants are up to code for those on site. Some that are county and then some that are on site are their own."

Heinle says a development consultant has already been contacted to start amending the development plan to reflect the need to demolish the wrecked structure and design new uses for the site. Much of the complex has already collapsed and more might because the heat has visibly melted and weakened some structural steel.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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