North Huntingdon day care evacuated by fire that started at Gloria’s Cantina Lounge
The staff of a North Huntingdon day care center scrambled to move more than a dozen children to safety Wednesday afternoon as seven fire companies battled flames at a former strip club next door.
Wiggles and Giggles Academy owner Tiffany Rudy said she glanced out the window “and it looked like a lot of dust coming down.” She realized at second glance that it was smoke.
The seven staff members fled the building with the 15 to 20 children, who range in age from 6 weeks to 6 years old.
“We grabbed every kid we could and went,” Rudy said.
The fire was reported just after 1 p.m. at the former Gloria’s Cantina Lounge on Route 30, west of Irwin. No injuries were reported.
Hartford Heights Volunteer fire Chief Sean Oskin said a demolition crew had started working in the morning to tear down the club, which had been closed for more than three years. The workers from CS Construction of Trafford had taken a break for lunch when the fire started, he said.
“The wind didn’t help much,” Oskin said, noting that it blew the flames toward the day care.
Gloria’s Cantina collapsed, along with a building attached to the former lounge, according to North Huntingdon police Officer William Kauffman.
All seven township fire departments were on the scene, in addition to township police and officers from Irwin and North Irwin.
A one-mile stretch of Route 30 was closed to traffic to allow firefighters to work. It was reopened just after 4:30 p.m.
Firefighters entered the day care Wednesday afternoon to collect the belongings of the children and staff members.
Employee Erin Sullivan said a staff member grabbed a book containing emergency contact information for the children before fleeing to the Guardian Storage Co. building across Route 30. Rudy had some contacts in her cellphone.
As they left, they could see the day care center starting to burn, Rudy said. Two cars parked outside the facility were damaged. An excavator used in the strip club demolition also was damaged.
Jon Ledwich of Level Green said his 2- and 3-year-old sons attend the day care.
“I know my boys are OK and everything else is fine, so that’s all that matters,” Ledwich said. “It’s a shame, because this was a hell of a day care.”
Jodi Shivey of North Huntingdon said her children attended the day care for years.
“All the teachers did a fantastic job of getting the kids out safe,” Shivey said. “(I’m) very proud of them all, very thankful for them.”
Shivey said random people brought snacks and drinks to the children while they waited at the storage building.
“We didn’t know who they were,” she said. “They were just nice people.”
The day care was severely damaged, firefighters said.
Rudy said she doesn’t have immediate plans to reopen.
Gloria’s Cantina, which had been a fixture since it opened along the highway in 1970, closed in November 2012 under court order.
Dante Bertani, attorney for the lounge’s longtime owner, 86-year-old Gloria Brugnoli, said the building was being sold.
“Oh … that’s just terrible,” Bertani said when he learned of the fire.
Prosecutors had asked Brugnoli to correct some issues at the bar, including adding training for staff members, security officers and agreeing to contact police in the event of incidents. But the club was closed after a state police raid in which two dancers and a patron were arrested.
During five undercover stings, agents were sold drugs and propositioned for sex, according to testimony from court hearings.
Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck requested an injunction to close the bar.
“We alleged that there was drug trafficking and prostitution going on,” Peck said.
Judge Richard E. McCormick dissolved the court order in October, records show.
Oskin, the Hartford Heights Volunteer fire chief, said the cause of the fire will be determined by fire marshals with North Huntingdon police.
Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this report. Natalie Wickman is a Tribune-Review staff writer.