'Ammunition flying' during gun-range fire in West York

Christopher Dornblaser

Local and state police, as well as a federal organization, are investigating a fire that destroyed a sporting goods shop and gun range in West York on Friday night.

Emergency personnel responded to a three-alarm blaze at West York Sporting Goods, 1059 W. Market Street.

Firefighters at the scene of a Friday night fire at a gun range in West York. Amanda J. Cain photo - acain@yorkdispatch.com

Crews were dispatched at 5:54 p.m. to reports of the fire, according to York County 911. The shop and gun range, formerly known as Chet Patterson Sporting Goods, is about a block away from the dividing line between York City and West York.

West York Fire Capt. Chuck Zienkiewicz said Friday night that the cause of the fire was unknown.

"Upon arrival, we did find heavy smoke conditions," the captain said.

He said there was difficulty accessing the building and zero visibility for fighting the fire. He said there were large amounts of ammunition in the building, and the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was contacted to catalog the weapons inside.

The ammunition in the building could be heard exploding during the fire, and Zienkiewicz said crews used caution when fighting the fire.

"We did have to evacuate the building a couple times, due to deteriorating conditions," he said.

Zienkiewicz said he expected the sporting goods shop to be a total loss.

The captain said no one was in the building at the time the fire was reported. Besides the full-sized gun range and shop, there were offices in the building, he said.

The captain said neighboring buildings had some smoke damage, but nothing serious. A short time after the blaze, firefighters were seen entering the building directly next to the sporting goods store. It was not immediately clear what, if any, damage that building might have sustained.

Investigation: On Sunday morning, Matt Millsaps, acting chief for the West York Police Department, said he believed the building was considered to be a total loss. He said the fire will be part of a "task-force initiative" between the borough police, state police and the ATF.

He said typically fires in Pennsylvania involve state police fire marshals and local police, but because the sporting goods store deals with the ATF on a regulatory basis, that body has become involved as well.

"That opens the door with the ATF," Millsaps said.

The acting chief also said fire crews were dealing with the fire until close to 2:30 a.m., nearly nine hours after the call originally came in. He said they were attending to hot spots in the building. Millsaps said there were no injuries reported as a result of the fire.

A two-alarm fire was reported at West York Sporting Goods  on Friday, Sept. 30.

Reaction: Upon arriving at the scene, Jordan Fox, of West York, quickly walked away from the fire. He said he had just stopped at the Giant grocery store and had come back to find the sporting goods store on fire.

Fox said after seeing the fire, he decided not to stick around.

"It's a shooting range; they got ammo in there," he said.

However, the potential threat of ammunition going off didn't stop the dozens of onlookers from standing outside the building, blocked by police tape, as they took photos with their phones, cameras and tablets.

Among the onlookers was Vicky Guido, who lives across the street from  the store.

She said she was in her home, and she came out when she saw smoke.

"You see the gasoline out front, it's scary," she said, commenting on the gas station located right next to the sporting goods store.

Gary Wallick, of York City, came down the street to see the fire. Wallick, who was a firefighter in Red Lion, said this fire was particularly bad.

"This one is bad in a way, because of what's in the building," he said.

Jim Reed, of Lancaster, who works in the area, was watching the blaze, as well. Reed, who said he grew up with guns, wasn't too concerned about the ammo or the gas station. He said had those two things been an issue, the fire departments would have likely moved onlookers farther back. Reed did, however, agree with what the West York fire captain confirmed later that night.

"I'd say it's pretty much a loss," he said.

"Ammunition flying": Around 7:15 p.m., ammo could be heard popping from the building. Shortly after, a firefighter said there was "ammunition flying," and spectators were moved farther away, to the corner of West Market Street and Dewey Street.

Firefighters respond to a fire at West York Sporting Goods, LLC Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. As of Friday night the cause is unknown. Amanda J. Cain photo

Firefighters, West York Police and West York Borough Council members were assisting, instructing onlookers to move out of the area.

"Now they got ammo popping off. ... Firefighters have a pretty treacherous job in there tonight," Wallick said.

David Jennings, of West York, said when he got to the building he heard a "bunch of pops going off" with a bunch of rounds and bullets coming out of the building.

"It's a pretty big fire here in West York," he said. "One that I didn't see for a long time in the West York area."

Firefighters at the scene of a Friday night fire at a gun range in West York. Amanda J. Cain photo - acain@yorkdispatch.com

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.

Staff reporter Sean Cotter contributed to this report.