Heavy black smoke and intense heat coming from inside a roaring Eighth Avenue structure on Wednesday forced Altoona firefighters to battle a blaze from the outside. Three families were left homeless.
Firefighters had five hoses blasting water from different directions at the front of the brick structure's second floor after the fire broke out after 4 p.m.
"My pets!" a man at the scene cried out.
A firefighter ushered him back and told him they could not be saved as a woman hugged him.
"God!" he yelled as he got in a car.
Later, the man, who declined to comment at first and did not give his name, said he had two cats and two hamsters inside the burning building at 1912 Eighth Ave.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Altoona firefighters prepare to spray water into the front of an apartment fire Wednesday on Eighth Avenue near 19th Street.
"He lost everything in there," a man who appeared to know the pet owner said at the scene.
The building housed T&R Used Furniture and Estates on the first floor and three apartments above.
Tony and Ryan Pasquini bought the property eight months ago, Altoona Fire Chief Reynold D. Santone Jr. said. They also owned an adjacent home.
People were home when the fire broke out, but Fire Inspector Michael Tofano believed they all escaped without injury, he said.
The first crews were forced to evacuate the structure because of the fire's heat and smoke, Santone said.
At one point, smoke could be seen seeping out from between the bricks.
The roof support collapsed and the front was in danger of doing the same, Santone said.
Firefighters were going to have be careful when heading back into the structure because they didn't want anyone to get hurt, he said.
The fire department let the fire eat through the roof in order to let it escape, he said.
While some people stood and watched in the crowd, others stepped forward and recorded the fire on their cellphones. But members of the crowd were forced to move when the smoke began to choke them and sting their eyes.
A river of water flowed down Eighth Avenue toward nearby Altoona police officers who had blocked off 20th Street.
Firefighters were pumping 3,000 gallons a minute onto the blaze, Santone said.
An "adequate" amount of firefighters were on the scene of the fire that broke out during a shift change, and they had a "terrific water supply," Santone said.
The fire was reported as electrical, but the cause will remain undetermined until Tofano can get inside, he said. A damage estimate wasn't immediately available.
The Emergency Disaster Services of The Salvation Army and the Southern Alleghenies Chapter of the American Red Cross also responded.