Up in smoke

Waterfront Tavern destroyed in weekend blaze

The aftermath of the Saturday morning Waterfront Tavern fire. The building was bulldozed to the ground after firefighters successfully extinguished the blaze. Sentinel photo by LAUREN KERSHNER

LEWISTOWN — A Lewistown landmark was bulldozed to the ground after a fire Saturday.

The Waterfront Tavern, which was built in the 19th Century, according to the restaurant website, became engulfed in flames in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Junction Fire Company Deputy Chief Terry Beers said the fire was called in around 3:36 a.m. when a neighbor called 911 to report smoke in the area around the restaurant. He said Junction Fire Company Chief Scott Beers arrived on the scene and found heavy smoke in the area and reported the fire.

The fire was originally thought to have been in the kitchen, however, it was discovered to be in the basement of the building. Terry said the fire had to have been blazing for a bit before it was discovered. He said a Granville Township Police Officer drove past the building around 2:30 a.m. but thought the haze he saw was fog coming from the river.

“The neighbor heard the popping of the fire, it woke her up,” Terry said.

Photo courtesy of Josh Pannepacker Daylight breaks over the smoking Waterfront Tavern Saturday, while firefighters from Junction Fire Company spray water into the building.

Overall, Terry said the structure of the building, a balloon type structure with a heavy timber design, hindered the efforts of the nearly 80 firefighters that were called to assist on the scene.

“It’s called a balloon structure because you could see clear up to the roof,” he said. “The openness of the building made it difficult to reach the fire.”

Since the fire started in the basement and had been burning for a while before it was discovered, the building was structurally unsound and firefighters faced collapses from the first floor into the basement.

Terry said the flames and heat were very strong in the basement, it is believed stored oil, which was kept in the basement, helped to fuel the fire.

He added the alcohol and other restaurant equipment added to the overall heat of the fire.

Photo courtesy of Josh Pannepacker A firefighter talks into a radio Saturday morning after a fire broke out at the Waterfront Tavern

Terry said after the floors started to collapse, Scott called all firefighters out of the building and took more of a defensive approach.

“We basically had to let the fire come to us, it sounds bad, but it was for the safety of the firefighters,” Terry said. “The building was lost at that point.”

Flames continued to push through the roof making even a defensive attack difficult.

Fire Investigator Mike Force was called to the scene to investigate the cause of the fire.

Force said the fire is still being investigated and the cause is undetermined. He is being assisted in his investigation by Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshall and Granville Township Police.

Photo courtesy of Josh Pannepacker Flames shoot out of the Waterfront Tavern early Saturday morning.

“I am not yet sure of the extent of damage, but I am estimating it could approach $1 million,” Force said.

He added he watched the firefighters fight the blaze and commented the fire was really stubborn.

“They just couldn’t get to it,” Force said.

Firefighters were on the scene for nearly 12 hours. Local businesses including Domino’s and McDonalds provided free food and drinks to all of the first responders on the scene to help keep them going.

Terry said there were no injuries as a result of the fire, but there was some equipment damage.

“Our truck was damaged and we are not sure yet of the extent of that damage,” he said.

Attempts to contact the owners of the Waterfront Tavern were made but no one was able to respond as of press time Sunday.

Junction Fire Company was assisted on the scene by Reedsville, East Derry, Granville, West Granville, Highland Park, Brooklyn, Burnham, United Fire and Rescue, Mount Union, McVeytown, Mifflintown and Mifflin County Forest Firefighters fire companies. Fame EMS provided medical attention to the firefighters, making sure they were not over exerting themselves.

Fire Police directed traffic around the scene while fire equipment blocked traffic on state Route 103 toward Granville and from Granville toward