AUBURN — The Auburn Fire Department has extinguished the third fire to ignite in the last 80 years in an iconic downtown building Monday morning.
Crews responded to the Masonic Temple building at 10 South St. at about 7:15 a.m., Fire Chief Joe Morabito said. The fire started in Fast Trak Wireless, and smoke could be seen pouring out of the second floor.
Morabito said there's significant damage to the interior of the building. Crews smashed upper story windows to allow for ventilation, and dark char marks could be seen around sections of windows and doors.
"You can't see anything from the outside, but the inside's got some fairly heavy fire and water damage," he said.
All downtown streets were re-opened to traffic by mid-afternoon Monday. South Street between Genesee and Lincoln streets and Genesee Street between William and South streets had been closed for several hours. Morabito said even though the fire is out, he expects crews to remain most of the day for clean up.
Morabito said the fire, which started at the front corner of the building, does not appear to be suspicious at this time. The state Office of Fire Prevention and Control was called to the scene along with a K-9 unit, but the K-9 unit was sent back. The fire department said Monday night that the investigation is ongoing.
The blaze was a difficult one for firefighters to tackle. The Auburn Fire Department was on its third alarm as of about 9:30 a.m., calling in firefighters from home. Assistant Chief Ed Sherman said the department was rotating crews due to the heavy smoke and difficult interior work. Rehab units and TLC Ambulance were nearby in case firefighters needed assistance.
Dina Donk, of Wolcott, and co-owner of Excel Health and Wellness across the street from Fast Trak, said she and friend Erin O'Connell, of Elbridge, called the fire into 911 Monday morning. Donk said she could see smoke seeping out the sides of the building and then flames dripping down the glass.
"It was so weird seeing that," Donk said, "like lava, it was dripping."
Donk closed her business for the day.
Majdi Hasan, owner of Fast Trak, said he'd been at the store Sunday around 5 p.m. and everything was fine. He said his store's alarm company alerted him of the fire around 7:28 a.m., but he had missed the call. He said he has cameras in the building, and he hopes investigators can use the footage to see what may have happened.
"It's the worst feeling," Hasan said, looking between two fire trucks at his front door and the charred inside.
Hasan has had a trying month after his business was burglarized, too, on June 5. The Auburn Police Department arrested a 17-year-old male and 20-year-old Courtney F. Donovan, of Auburn, after the couple allegedly stole about $4,200 worth of cellphones. The male had punched Hasan and pinned him to the floor before the couple had fled, according to a release.
Smoke damage was apparent throughout the block, primarily from Fast Trak to 12 South St. Tenant Joel Campagnola, of 12 South St., opened his door for firefighters to look inside. He said the smoke was so thick you couldn't see.
"That's an awful taste in the mouth," he said, after looking and walking around inside.
The Cayuga County Arts Council said that as of 9 a.m., the fire hasn't impacted the neighboring Auburn Schine Theater. Morabito said Swaby's Tavern on the north side of the building had a slight smoke smell inside, but the business was clear to operate. Morabito said offices in the Phoneix Building continued to be occupied.
According to Cayuga County real property records, Piccolo Properties owns the row on 10 South St., occupying about 28,600 square feet, about 3,600 of that for retail. Hasan said the upstairs has been empty for years.
This isn't the first time, nor the second that the Masonic Temple has caught fire. According to the Auburn Masonic Lodge's history, the building caught fire in 1932, chopping its floors from nine to three. It also destroyed the Second Presbyterian Church, the current site of the Auburn Schine Theater. In 1993, the organization abandoned the building after holding meetings there since 1911.
A second fire broke out in June 1999, a fire several of the current Auburn firefighters remember. Morabito said Monday's blaze was nearly in the same location. Fire investigators then had determined faulty wiring to be the cause.