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Carnegie rallies behind those affected by deadly fire

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Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Firefighters remained at the scene of a Friday night fire in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The blaze engulfed the building that houses the popular PaPa J's restaurant on the first floor.
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Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Firefighters remained at the scene of a Friday night fire in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The blaze engulfed the building that houses the popular PaPa J's restaurant on the first floor.
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Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Laura Szymanski comforts her cat, Hope, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, moments after a firefighter found the pet inside the heavily damaged apartment building in Carnegie that caught fire late Friday night. Another of her cats, Grace, escaped the blaze but a third named Victory is still missing.
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Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Patches of bright blue sky were visible through the roof of a building at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The building was heavily damaged by a blaze that started late Friday and quickly spread. Firefighters were on the scene dousing hot spots in the multi-story building overnight and into the morning.
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Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Ice that formed from the water used to douse a fire in Carnegie clings to the exterior of PaPa J's at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The restaurant has been a fixture in the borough since 1987.
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Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
The Family Dollar store was among the businesses near the intersection of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Carnegie that were closed on Saturday, March 3, 2018 because power was still off from an overnight fire that heavily damaged an apartment building.
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Christine Zirngibl | Tribune-Review
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
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Christine Zirngibl | Tribune-Review
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
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Christine Zirngibl | Tribune-Review
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.

Michael Troiani vowed Sunday to reopen his family’s business, but he’s not sure where or when that will happen.

A fatal, five-alarm fire Friday night caused extensive damage to the 100-year-old Carnegie building that housed the well-known restaurant PaPa J’s on the first floor. Troiani’s family owns the building and the business.

John Michael Wells, 64, a long-time maintenance worker for the Troiani family who lived in the three-story building at East Main Street and Broadway Avenue, was found unresponsive in his apartment and died early Saturday night at UPMC Mercy. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s office said smoke inhalation was the cause of death.

Troiani said a memorial service will be held at a future date for Wells, whom he described as a friend.

“There is nothing I want more than (Wells’) family to feel an overwhelming sense of love,” Troiani said.

Troiani also expressed concern for the 42 restaurant employees who are now without work and the 11 families without a home. The Red Cross is assisting displaced residents.

As for his family’s business, Troiani said in a phone interview, “PaPa J’s will return, but I have no capacity to make any promises on a timeline. We’ve recovered from a lot of tragedy as a family and with our business. We are a stubborn group. One way or another we will recover.”

Troiani said it will take time to determine whether the business returns to its old Carnegie location.

“At this point, I don’t know what we can save with the building. The damage is extensive. The ceiling of the first floor has fallen to the ground. There is extensive water and smoke damage throughout,” he said. “The contents, what remains on the first floor, are relics. Nothing has functional use anymore.”

Carnegie Council President Sue Demko said the borough’s engineer conducted an initial investigation of the building’s condition Saturday.

“We’ll be discussing the fire and status of the building at our meeting on Monday night,” Demko said.

The borough’s regular workshop meeting starts at 6 p.m.

Demko described the building as a borough landmark and said the restaurant has drawn people to the community’s downtown shopping district.

“That building and the owners are a big part of this community,” Demko said. “Everybody is rallying behind (the Troianis) and offering whatever help we can provide.”

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, [email protected] or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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