Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

July 30, 2013

Arson?

Police looking for three kids who were spotted near Kohl's building just before fire

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —

Thick black smoke could be seen for miles as city and South Lockport firefighters battled a fire Tuesday afternoon that engulfed the former Kohl's Cycle Sales building on Gooding Street.

No injuries were reported. Demolition is coming soon for what's left of the city-owned building, officials said.

Lockport Police are also looking for three kids who were reportedly spotted in the bushes near the building just prior to the fire breaking out. The kids reportedly took off in opposite directions when a city worker called out to them.

The fact the building does not have any utilities raises some questions, said Police Chief Larry Eggert.

"It's obviously a fire with a suspicious origin," he said. "We're looking for them because we want to see what they know about the fire."

Lockport Police and Fire departments received the 911 call at just after 1 p.m. Tuesday reporting the blaze. South Lockport Fire Co. also responded to the fire, which spread close to a nearby railroad trestle. A heavy fire could be seen through the building windows as far as Gooding and Pine streets intersection.

At about 2 p.m. the building's north wall collapsed. Firefighters on two ladder trucks doused the building, which then yielded white smoke at about 2:15 p.m.

While firefighters worked to put out the blaze, onlookers packed the area of Gooding and Pine streets, many armed with cell phones and cameras. Another throng of people lined up at where Gooding meets Grand Street. The massive pillar of smoke could be seen as far west as Niagara University in Lewiston, as far south as Eastern Hills Mall and as far east as Medina.

Kevin Burkwit of Lockport Cave & Underground Boat Ride, which is now on Gooding Street, said he saw smoke coming from the west side of the building and called 911. A dispatcher said firefighters were already on their way.

Police wanted Lockport Cave employees to keep their side of Gooding clear of vehicles and people while the building was on fire. If a transformer on any nearby utility pole blew up, it could bring down the lines over the Cave lot, employees were warned. Plus, if the wind changed, heavy smoke would be headed that way.

"They wanted us to keep the lot clear," Burkwit said.

The 53,000-square-foot building, which has an address listed as 71 Gooding St. and sits at the top of the Clinton Street hill, was taken over by the city in 2008. It was originally built in 1875 for a brass bed business, which shipped the beds down the Erie Canal, said Mayor Michael Tucker. It has since housed a number of different businesses, including Wisniewski's Slip Co.

Before Tuesday's fire, all of the windows to the two-story structure had been broken out and the front wall started caving in. The city has tried before to take the building down, but had faced resistance from the state historic preservation office.

In May 2011 the Niagara County Brownfield Development Corp. gave the city $200,000 for asbestos abatement at 71 Gooding St.

Eggert said if anyone has information about the fire they should contact LPD detectives at 439-6666.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.