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Most damage minor in fire at Dallas site

Concrete ceilings kept center from being wiped out, head of firm that owns complex says.

Firefighters work to control the fire at the Dallas Shopping Center (above and below) early Tuesday.

Fred adams photos/for the times leader

Damage sustained at the Dallas Shopping Center (above and below) can be seen Tuesday.

Aimee Dilger photos/the times leader

DALLAS – It looked like a lot of damage at the Dallas Shopping Center, but Fire Chief Harry Vivian said businesses remained mostly unscathed by an early-morning fire.

“Although it looks bad, the fire was mostly contained to the roof and façade,” Vivian said while overlooking the shopping center Tuesday morning. “Merchandise and items in the stores were basically not touched by the fire, just water and smoke damage.”

“From what I’m told, if we did not have the concrete ceilings, the center would have been wiped out,” said Rob Finlay, the president of Humford Equities, which has owned the facility since 1980. Because of concrete walls and ceilings, in seven of the 10 affected businesses “there was literally no water damage,” he said.

The fire was first reported by a passerby at 11:38 p.m. Monday when flames were spotted in the roof and façade above Dallas Cleaners, Vivian said.

By the time firefighters arrived, flames had spread above other businesses.

“We had a little wind condition; when the fire is up in the roof, the wind is going to shift the flames left and right, and nothing is going to stop that,” Vivian said.

State police deputy fire marshal Trooper Tim Young focused on the electrical sign above Dallas Cleaners as the cause of the blaze.

Most of the fire damage was contained to the middle of the shopping center affecting Dallas Cleaners, AT&T, Tobacco Road, Gallery of Sound, Gertrude Hawk Chocolate, Wild Birds Unlimited, Sprint, Fresco Grill and Martini Bar, Ye Olde Clock and Gift Shoppe and H&R Block. Other businesses in the shopping center -- Hallmark, Original Italian Pizza, UPS, James Finn Barber Shop and Kerns Bros. Beer Distribution -- were not impacted by the fire.

Marcello and Bruno Ameti, owners of Café Toscana in Wilkes-Barre, opened Fresco Grill and Martini Bar in the former Cuvenee Restaurant in the center just one week ago.

Marcello Ameti said the restaurant experienced smoke and water damage but very little interior smoke damage.

“As I was driving home (from Café Toscana), my brother Bruno called me and said the building was on fire and I stopped in,” Marcello Ameti said. “It’s unexpected. We will definitely open again as soon as the conditions are suited for.”

Asghar Lotfipour was on his way to his store, Bagel Art, in the Dallas Shopping Center late Monday night to start baking hundreds of bagels for basket orders in the midst of the holiday season. Instead, he found the shopping center in flames and called his wife, Nancy Lotfipour.

“It’s my holiday and it’s really busy,” Nancy Lotfipour said. “First thing, I’m happy (her store was spared). The second thing is I’m sad for everyone. The shopping center is like a family. We see each other and say hello.”

Craig Yarrish, who owns Wild Birds Unlimited with his wife, Karen, said he was waiting to get back into the store Tuesday to view the damage. Yarrish said his alarm company called him at 12:20 a.m. Tuesday to tell him the store’s burglar alarm had been activated and that the shopping center was on fire.

“It’s the holiday season, three days before Christmas. and even the days after are our bigger retail days, but it’s a business and I’ll deal with it,” Yarrish said.

Yarrish said he and his wife plan on reopening the business as soon as possible.

Kippie Morgan, owner of They Grow So Fast children’s consignment shop, learned of the fire early Tuesday morning, when her daughter, Dianna, drove past and called her. Morgan says she was able to get the computer and cash out of the store early Tuesday.

Morgan said local consignment shops called her Tuesday morning with offers to help, but she did not know what they could do for her yet.

“I’m just kind of stunned right now,” Morgan said. “I guess it hasn’t hit me yet. I’m anxious to get in there and see what has to be done.”

Original Italian Pizza was also closed Tuesday and owner Andrea Tomasino said he had to cancel orders that were already placed. Tomasino was alerted to the fire by a former waitress who called his house before midnight as Tomasino was going to bed.

“I just came here and I parked here and I stayed til 3 o’clock,” Tomasino said. “I feel sorry for everybody, of course.”

Geisinger-Dallas Health Clinic, which is housed at one end of the shopping center opposite to Kern Bros., was also not affected by the fire. The health clinic sustained smoke and water damage.

Patients of the health clinic were advised to keep their appointments that were transferred to the Geisinger-Kistler Clinic in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. Patients that have appointments at the Dallas clinic today are to report to the Geisinger-Kingston clinic at 499 Wyoming Ave. in Kingston. Vaccines and other medications from the clinic were taken to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township for refrigeration.

Electrical service was turned off to the building forcing businesses that were not impacted by the fire to remain closed on Tuesday.

Finlay said Peking Chef Restaurant, state Sen. Lisa Baker’s district office, The Medicine Shoppe pharmacy, A’s Cutting Crew and Gunster Insurance Agency were unaffected and will remain open. He said the facility’s insurance policy leaves individual shops responsible for the contents of the stores, but he was confident each tenant had insurance.

Vivian estimated 13 of the businesses may reopen by Thursday at the earliest, including Kern Bros., Bagel Art, Original Italian Pizza, UPS, and Ye Olde Clock and Gift Shoppe.

All of the merchandise and layaway items in Ye Olde Clock and Gift Shoppe were spared damage from the fire, said Melissa Quinn, who co-owns the store with her husband, Tom.

Quinn says they are waiting for the restoration of power and electrical inspections to be done as required. But the Quinns hope to reopen their store as soon as possible, which could be as early as today.

“We want to really express our appreciation to the Dallas Fire Department,” Melissa Quinn said. “We’re just very, very thankful that everything is fine inside.”

Stanley Spencer, manager at Kern Bros. Beer Distribution, said the fire came at the worst time of year.

“Christmas and New Year’s is our busiest time,” Spencer said. “We’re not allowed inside to see if there is any damage. We’re expecting some water and smoke damage.”

Workers at Peking Chef Restaurant, which is in the right wing of the center, showed up for work Tuesday morning surprised to learn of the fire. A manager said the restaurant did have electricity, but the water had been turned off, forcing the restaurant not to open. Peking Chef owner Eric Lee was out of town and was not available for comment.

Vivian said firefighters used water tankers and portable pools to help extinguish the blaze. Holes were cut in the roof to stop the flames from spreading throughout the entire structure.

“That’s how we stopped the fire, by cutting the roof,” Vivian said.

Low temperatures created icy conditions in the parking lot.

No injuries were reported.

It is the second time in two years flames have damaged the shopping center.

On March 5, 2008, a fire erupted in the “H” in the Hallmark sign attached to the façade, according to The Times Leader archives.

Windsor Davis, of Harveys Lake, visited the Medicine Shoppe on Tuesday morning. Davis said he heard about the fire on the news and was shocked because he frequents the stores and sometimes eats at the Peking Chef.

“It was worse than I thought it was going to be,” Davis said after viewing the damage.

Noxen resident Joseph Luketic passed the fire scene Tuesday morning on his way to Thomas’ Market in Shavertown.

“It’s just a shame,” Luketic said. “I saw it on TV and stuff, but to see it up close, it was pretty devastating.”

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