HOWLAND - Employees of Ladybugs Unlimited were looking for the stranger who warned them of smoke coming from their roof about 5 p.m. Thursday.
They wanted to thank the man who got them to leave just before fire erupted at the 379 Niles Cortland Road S.E. boutique. No one was injured in the blaze that also played havoc with rush hour traffic on one of the most heavily traveled roads in the area.
Lori Stull was inside working when she said the man came and warned her of the smoke. She got out while the man called 911. Heavy smoke poured from the roof before flames shot out. A gaping hole was left in the roof after the flames were extinguished.
Ladybugs Unlimited Fire
Stull said she smelled something funny a couple of minutes before the man came in, but she had no idea something was on fire.
''We had no clue,'' Stull said as she watched firefighters douse the flames. ''I just started smelling something funny, and a couple minutes later a guy comes in and said, 'Your roof is smoking.'''
According to the Howland Fire Department, crews found a fire in the building's attic that "consumed most of the roof." The blaze was under control in 40 minutes.
Firefighters from Howland and other departments battle a fire at a 379 Niles Cortland Road business that broke out about 5 p.m. Thursday. No one was injured in the blaze. Witnesses said a passer-by warned employees to get out then dialed 911.
Howland fire crews were joined by colleagues in Bazetta, Vienna, the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Weathersfield and Brookfield in battling the flames. Police blocked off a portion of Niles Cortland Road at the entrance ramps to state Route 82 and East Market Street for several hours to allow firefighters to do their work.
In all, the blaze required the work of 43 firefighters, nine engines, one ladder truck and four squad cars. Firefighters were able to salvage a large amount of merchandise, which largely consisted of high-end designer purses.
Stull said she and two other workers were the only ones in the business when they were warned to get out.
''A customer just left, thank God,'' she said.
Co-owner Linda Spence said the business has been in the building for 11 years. She said the building itself was constructed in 1929.
''It's heartbreaking,'' Spence said.
Spence said that while she was saddened by the fire, she is determined to bring back the business.
''I feel a little bit empty, but we will come back. We're not going anywhere,'' Spence said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, but it does not appear to be suspicious. Damage to the building and contents is estimated at $150,000 apiece. The building has working smoke detectors.