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Fire damages World War I era building

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Buffalo: Fire damages World War I era building
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Fire investigators are trying to find out what caused a three-alarm fire in North Buffalo Friday. The building where it started has a rich history.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Firefighters arrived just after noon Friday and began to fight flames in a vacant section of a large mixed-use building.

"Once you get inside a structure like this, it's very easy to get disoriented, very easy to get lost in these buildings," Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr. said.

After a section of the roof collapsed, firefighters were pulled from the building and forced to fight it from the outside.

"Air One gave us an aerial view and they were able to find some other hot spots where the fire had moved to," Whitfield said.

They were able to contain the fire and keep it away from a tire warehouse in a neighboring part of the building.

"If it had impinged upon these tires here, we would be here next week this time," Whitfield said.

But the sheer size of the building made for a difficult battle. Three different stations were called to respond.

"It's an L-shaped facility so it comes all the way down Hertel Avenue, one block from Military Road and back over this way," Whitfield said. "So it's a huge, huge facility."

"This was a gigantic building, almost 1.5 million square feet," preservationist Tim Tielman said.

Tielman said the building originally served as an airplane factory during World War I.

"At the time it was built, it was the largest aircraft company building in the world," he said.

It was later used as commercial space. The largest tenant was the M. Wile Mens' Clothing Factory.

"Carson had its own line of suits," Tielman said. "It was called the Johnny Carson suit and you could walk into a mens' store in Downtown Buffalo or Chicago and buy a Johnny Carson Suit. That was made here."

But it's also the scene of a more somber moment in Buffalo history.

"In 1950, we lost a Division Chief here," Whitfield said. "Buffalo Fire Department lost a division chief that responded to a fire here."

That was on the mind of firefighters Friday.

"Thank God everybody got out safe (today)," Whitfield said.

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