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By STEVE VIRKLER, TIMES STAFF WRITER
LOWVILLE — An early Saturday morning fire destroyed two downtown businesses, damaged two others and injured at least a couple of people in the upstairs apartments, one of them severely.
Lowville firefighters at about 4:45 a.m. were called to a fire in three adjacent buildings — two housing New York Pizzeria and the other housing Good Morning Realty — that are comprise the Times Block, which was built in 1876.
One man was treated at the scene by Lewis County Search and Rescue and airlifted to the burn unit at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse with severe burns, according to Mark A. Tuttle, the county’s emergency medical services coordinator. He was listed in critical condition Saturday afternoon, with burns estimated to be covering 70 percent of his body, Mr. Tuttle said.
Two other people were later taken by Lowville police to Lewis County General Hospital for evaluation, he said.
Officials had not released the names of the victim as of Saturday afternoon.
“As far as we know, everyone is accounted for,” Lewis County Fire Coordinator James M. Martin said.
He was uncertain of exactly how many people were displaced by the fire.
The buildings, which included apartments on the second and third stories, were destroyed.
“It was a great response,” said Lewis County Sheriff L. Michael Tabolt, noting four people in the upstairs apartment in which the fire began were quickly rescued by firefighters.
“They did a good job of containing it,” Mr. Martin said of the volunteers. “It was a well-working fire when they got here.”
The blaze was reportedly started by a discarded cigarette.
Mr. Martin would not confirm that Saturday but did say the people in the apartment were apparently awake at the time of the blaze. An official cause will not be determined until investigators review the evidence Monday, he said.
Fire officials were intially concerned about having enough water to fight the block fire, but village workers were able to provide adequate water pressure throughout, Mr. Martin said.
“When we got here, the flames were really, really bad,” said Mary Ann Carbonaro, who owns the 7609-7611 N. State St. pizzeria with her husband, Carmelo. “There was not much we could do.”
However, the most important thing was that their five apartment tenants, two of whom work at the restarant, were able to escape the burning building, she said.
While much of the pizzeria’s equipment was lost, some pieces housed in the concrete rear entrance to the kitchen could be salvaged, Mrs. Carbonaro said.
The couple may reopen their pizzeria in a building they own on South State Street that currently has no tenant in the storefront, she said.
Roger L. Abbey, owner of Good Morning Realty, 7613 N. State St., said he also plans to relocate his business to a South State Street building he owns that is presently vacant.
However, the fire has destroyed another piece of the village’s history, he said.
“Downtown Lowville has always held a dear spot in my heart,” said Mr. Abbey, who has served on the Lowville Cream Cheese Festival planning committee since its inception. “Hopefully, we can to something nice and fill a hold that has been left by this fire.”
The Abbeys were able to salvage some odds and ends from their real estate and sign-making business, but “most of it was a complete loss,” he said.
Firefighters were able to keep the blaze from spreading to adjacent buildings on either side of the downtown block that house the Community Bank and the Wildroot Book Store/Wayseeker’s Studio. However, both buildings reportedly sustained smoke and water damage, with the book store and art gallery hit particularly heavy.
“I got the phone call at about 5,” said Shay E. Richards, who owns Wildroot and Wayseekers with her husband, Dean, a locally renowned artist. “In between tears and laughing, what else can you do? It’s out of our control.”
The store’s books and other items were all heavily smoke-damaged, she said.
Mrs. Richards said she was told that, depending on the condition of the fire wall between her building and the Cabonaros’, her building may need to be condemned as well. Tenants in her three apartments have also been displaced by the fire.
While uncertain what she and her husband will do for their immediate livelihood, Mrs. Richards said she felt particularly bad for those who lost their apartments and possessions.
She also expressed gratitude to the firefighters, fire department auxiliary members and other volunteers who gave their assistance.
“Everybody just kind of comes together as a community,” Mrs. Richards said.
Martinsburg, Beaver Falls and New Bremen firefighters assisted at the scene, as did aerial truck crews from Carthage and town of Watertown fire departments.
Officials from the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control are assisting local fire investigators. Village, county and state highway crews also assisted at the scene.
An October 1999 block fire destroyed five buildings just down the street at Dayan and South State streets. That lot — once referred to as the “gap in the smile of Lowville — remains vacant, although the state Department of Transportation is claiming a portion of it to widen the intersection in an ongoing Route 12 reconstruction project through the village.