Fire guts Catawissa station
Investigator: Blaze caused by bad wiring
By MICHAEL REICH
Press Enterprise Writer
CATAWISSA -- A fire that broke out here early Friday gutted the second floor of an old borough train station and damaged a first-story pizza shop that had opened two months ago.
Walt Gosciminski, the building's owner since 1979, is hopeful the first level of the building can be saved. The pizzeria's owner wants to reopen.
"From what I saw, I think we can just shave the top off and rebuild it," said Gosciminski, who lost train antiques to the fire.
"We're lucky it just went up into the second floor and pretty much stayed there."
Dave Cusatis, a state police fire marshal, said Friday that the fire, which started just after midnight, was accidental and caused by faulty electrical wiring in the ceiling of C.J.'s Pizza and Restaurant on the first floor.
Gosciminski, who watched as his building burned in the frigid night, said he stored old railroad antiques like lanterns and telegraphic equipment upstairs.
He had plans to display the items in a museum. Now, most of what he had stored there is ruined.
Chuck Kouaschetz, 31, Danville, and wife Joline rented the first floor from Gosciminski and ran C.J.'s.
The restaurant, which opened Oct. 28, had just celebrated its two-month anniversary the day before the fire.
Kouaschetz said he got a call about the fire at 1:30 a.m. and returned to his business.
"It was still burning when we got there. I watched my livelihood burn," he said.
Seeing the orange flames and thick gray smoke ruining his business seemed to suck the life out of him at first, Kouaschetz said.
"We invested every penny we had to get in there. It felt like somebody ripped my heart of my chest," Kouaschetz said.
He said coolers and fryers he used in the restaurant were destroyed. A $2,000 computer melted into a "blob of plastic."
Paint on walls and ceilings in the downstairs were also blistered.
Kouaschetz said he doesn't have insurance but is hoping Gosciminski's insurance will cover the damages to the business.
Mr. Kouaschetz wants to reopen the pizza shop but admits it will be difficult.
Firefighters were finally able to extinguish the blaze at about 3:30 Friday morning.
Fire companies from over a dozen communities responded to the blaze.
"We had a real good response from all the fire companies for as cold and miserable as it was," said Catawissa fireman Woody Heaps.
The fire started out smoky and slow-moving just after midnight.
One firefighter climbed a ladder truck and could be seen cutting a hole in the roof with a chain saw. Meanwhile, dozens of other firefighters prepared hoses on Railroad and Pine streets below.
Tanker trunks from several departments lined up to supply water and a portable water tub was set up on Main Street.
Fire crews closed Main Street from the Veterans Memorial Bridge to the Five Points intersection, while they fought the fire.
The streets around the building were still blocked to traffic Friday afternoon.
As the fire burned, dozens of people spilled out of their homes and braved the cold to watch.
By 1 a.m. Friday, heavy flames began shooting from the front of the building on the second story.
Catawissa firefighters remained at the scene throughout the day yesterday to watch for hot spots flaring up.
Engines from Bloomsburg, Buckhorn, Catawissa, Danville, Elysburg, Montour Twp., Valley Chemical, Mahoning Twp., Espy, Lightstreet, Lime Ridge, Mainville, Mifflinville, Millville, Orangeville, and Aristes responded overnight to the fire.
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