Spectacular Blaze Visible for Miles Destroys Youngstown Business

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Firefighters struggled through thick black smoke and flames inside Asphalt Solutions Inc.’s building Thursday in a desperate effort to cool off volatile propane tanks that could explode at any moment.

“We had a couple of guys watching the roof at the same time,” said Youngstown Fire Chief John O’Neill. “We had a good angle on it, then it just got too tight. I told them you’ve got to come out and it’s got to be now.”

Minutes after the firefighters were evacuated, the building’s roof collapsed and flames engulfed a parked truck inside the company’s garage, setting off a series of small explosions from tanks inside the building.

There were no injuries sustained by any of the firefighters, O’Neill said, and one refused a paramedic’s offer of a stretcher after he emerged from the building.

Fire broke out at the business at 708 Market St. around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, according to Bob Roth Jr., one of the owners. He was the only one in the building at the time and called the fire department immediately after discovering smoke seeping from a closed door to a room at the back corner of the building.

“Once I opened the door, that was it,” he says, noting flames and smoke started to spread throughout the business. Still, he and several other employees who were outside managed to move one of the trucks safely out of the garage and salvage the company’s computers.

“There’s got to be $1 million worth of stuff in there,” Roth said as he watched from the sidewalk as flames towered overhead.

Asphalt Solutions is a pavement maintenance and construction firm that serves commercial property owners and managers.

Aside from some tanks of gasoline and propane, Roth says the plant didn’t contain any hazardous materials.

Officials say they have yet to determine what caused the blaze, but some employees suspect that it may have started in a vacant house that abuts the business very close to where the fire originated.

“It’s almost attached to the building,” O’Neill said of the house, which hampered responders’ access to the fire. “We were struggling with that because that’s the side where the fire started.”

At least six engines and three ladders responded to the emergency Thursday. Firefighters atop the ladders – at times completely enveloped in thick smoke — trained their hoses on the blaze and had it under control within an hour.

“We’re always concerned about them,” O’Neill says of his ladder crews. “They’ll pull out of there and they’ve got air masks, so they’ll be all right.”

By this time, dozens of spectators had convened near the site, which sits along Market Street between Hughes Street and Falls Avenue just southwest of the Market Street Bridge.

O’Neill said his men encountered thick smoke and heavy fire when they arrived at the scene. “That thing had quite a bit of headway,” he says. Had the call been made earlier, the building and its contents could have been saved, he speculated.

Other challenges included exploding propane tanks inside the business, O’Neill said. “If you can get to them, you can keep them cool, but we don’t know where they’re at,” the chief said. “They’re all over inside the building, so we can’t get them out.”

At he was speaking to The Business Journal, two small explosions could be heard from inside the business and flames shot high into the black smoke.

By 5 p.m., white smoke could still be seen rising from the site and ladder crews were still soaking the charred building.

Roth and his partner, Justin Bishop, have been in business for 15 years and moved to this location seven years ago.

“The good thing is no one was hurt,” Roth emphasizes. “You just can’t predict things like this. Tomorrow he’ll meet with our insurance people. We’ll regroup, we’ll rebuild and our business will get better.”

Earlier Report:
Black Smoke Billows from Huge Fire Near Market Street Bridge

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