BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A firefighter died Wednesday inside a burning commercial building in downtown Buffalo, New York, where fire and a sudden explosion sent flames and smoke into the street.
Video recorded by onlookers showed crews of firefighters outside the building engulfed in a cloud of ash and then spraying hoses scrambling to regain control. Fire Commissioner William Reynaldo said the fireball was likely caused by a back draft, which he said occurs when oxygen is “absorbed into the building and blown back.”
The firefighter disappeared shortly after the crew arrived at the building that housed the theater clothing store. The situation quickly deteriorated and firefighters had to evacuate to escape the collapsing interior, Reynaldo said.
“Our firefighters who were on the scene were able to get out safely, unfortunately, he couldn’t,” he told an afternoon news conference.
The firefighter’s identity was not immediately released.
Rescuers were initially hopeful the missing firefighter would be found alive as crews spent hours trying to get to where he was believed to be trapped. Eventually the scene turned horrifying and firefighters stopped to salute as the ambulance drove away from the scene.
Mayor Byron Brown confirmed the death Wednesday afternoon.
“I am deeply saddened to announce that a member of the Buffalo Fire Department lost his life today while bravely battling a four-alarm fire on Main Street in downtown Buffalo,” he said in a statement. “I ask everyone to keep the family and fellow firefighters in your prayers.”
Brown ordered flags on city buildings to be lowered to half-mast.
The cause of the fire is under investigation. Reynaldo said workers had used blowtorches on the exterior of the building before the fire, and the heat could have been transferred to the interior through bricks or mortar, burning paper or other fuel.
“It looks like the fire was smoldering inside the building for a while before anyone was notified,” he said.
The building is owned by former US Rep. Chris Jacobs and is being renovated. Brown said inspectors determined it was unstable after the fire and would be demolished immediately.