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Two suspicious fires damage same mosque-owned apartments in Lackawanna

Lackawanna Fire Department

Erie County Sheriff's Department fire investigators have been brought in to probe two Lackawanna fires in a building owned by a local mosque.

Lackawanna Fire Chief Ralph Galanti said he called in deputies because this is the second fire in the building belonging to the Lackawanna Islamic Center. He said the first fire was definitely arson and the Sheriff's fire investigators specialize in those skills.

"Someone will tell us, 'Oh, I accidentally knocked a candle into a bookshelf and it started the fire.' that's easy to determine. We can look it and see basically where it started, where the damage was if there is any question on it," Galanti said. "If we look at it and say, 'Boy, that doesn't sound right,' we bring in the Erie County Sheriff."

Galanti said the fire was difficult to fight. He suspects the fire started in the hallway of the four-apartment building.

It left some people jumping out windows. A family of five was injured. Firefighters had to rescue others from a porch roof outside the burning building.

Fortunately, Galanti said, the 911 call came in to the fire department quickly after the fire started.

"I believe it was pretty quick right after," he said. "There was someone that was up that heard something in the hallway and ended up opening it up and they had flames there."

He does not know how long the investigation will take because the building was damaged. Deputies took chemical samples looking for fire accelerants and other chemicals.

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.