Unity Township loses millions of dollars in equipment in ‘devastating’ fire
Millions of dollars worth of trucks and road department equipment owned by Unity Township was destroyed Sunday morning in a fire that incinerated its public works garage.
“It’s a total devastating loss. The majority of the trucks are in there,” township Supervisor Mike O’Barto said as he watched firefighters pour water on the blaze that gutted the building at the municipal complex along Beatty County Road.
Heavy black smoke billowed from the area for at least an hour. A Murrysville Medic One representative said the smoke was visible 23 miles away in Murrysville.
O’Barto estimated there were eight or nine trucks inside the 80- by 150-foot concrete-block building and attached shed, all of which were destroyed. About 10 trucks were outside the building and not damaged.
No one was injured in the fire, first reported at 8:45 a.m. But at least one person experienced a close call.
Supervisor John Mylant, who also serves as a roadmaster, rushed to the scene, and he and township employee Scott Morrison drove a few of the vehicles out of the rear of the burning building. When Mylant was about to go back inside, Youngstown Assistant Fire Chief Danny Ball warned against it.
“Thank God he (Ball) pulled me by my shirt sleeve. Danny saved me. No sooner had he said that, than it went ‘boom,’ inside the building,” Mylant said.
The fire could have long-term repercussions for the township of 22,000 residents.
O’Barto is not certain the community can get replacement trucks in time for winter maintenance because the vehicles are customized to fit their needs — such as horsepower and road salt capacity.
Township road crews were scheduled for paving duties this week on some of the municipality’s 160 miles of roads, O’Barto said.
“Everything is put on hold while we figure out what to do. We’re going to have to do everything we can to have the equipment we need. We have to depend on our neighbors (municipalities). In the past, we have helped out others,” said O’Barto, a longtime supervisor.
The building, built in 2004 to consolidate several garages, and equipment are insured, O’Barto said.
“This was like moving into the penthouse. It was centrally located,” O’Barto said.
O’Barto said there was no fuel stored in the building, other than what was in the tanks of the trucks. He said no one had been working in the building since Friday afternoon.
State police Fire Marshal David Vinkler was investigating but did not expect to go inside the building until Monday after remnants of the structure cool down.
Lloydsville fire Chief Brian Schultheis said the front half of the building and attached shed were fully involved and the front portion of the roof had collapsed by time he arrived.
Units from Unity, Latrobe, Hempfield, Ligonier, Mt. Pleasant Township, Murrysville and Ligonier Township battled the blaze for more than two hours. Schultheis estimated about 75 firefighters responded to the call.
Firefighters needed a large volume of water and tapped into hydrants along Beatty County Road and on Frye Farm Road, as well as the pond at the township complex.
The flames were knocked down in about 90 minutes, but firefighters remained on scene throughout the afternoon.
The fire left three of the four exterior walls of the building “very unstable,” Schultheis said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or [email protected].