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Southern Tier

Ithaca fire closes restaurants, displaces residents

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Ithaca fire closes restaurants, displaces residents
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A fire in downtown Ithaca Tuesday morning closed two restaurants and left residents unable to return home. Tamara Lindstrom has more from the scene.

ITHACA, N.Y. -- It was a rude awakening for residents on the 100 block of Aurora Street in Downtown Ithaca.

"My roommates were around and they were banging on my door. I opened it and there was smoke in my apartment, everywhere. So we just got our stuff and went outside," said Alex Moin, who lives on the street.

"It was a tremendous amount of smoke," said Doug Gruen, owner of Blue Stone Grill. "The whole street and above the buildings was billowing with smoke."

Around 7:20 Tuesday morning, firefighters rushed to the apartments above Blue Stone Grill.

"After about ten minutes, they discovered there was a fire that was in a deep seeded area of the basement," said Ithaca Fire Chief Tom Parsons. "And the fire involved some of the structural components of the basement and extended into a restaurant that was just above the fire area."

"It was coming from the basement underneath Blue Stone, around the electrical panels and things that were down there, between the walls," Gruen said.

Firefighters say the building is structurally sound. But there is a lot of damage and it could be awhile before the residents get back in to their homes and the restaurant is up and running.

"There's no fire damage to the apartments," Parsons said. "There is some smoke damage. Probably, because of the electrical services and utilities involved in the building, people won't be allowed to go back in the building for at least awhile until the owners get things repaired."

The Red Cross is helping the victims of the fire. Everyone got out safely, but one visibly distraught resident's cat was killed after the owners fled the building.

"When the alarms go off, they are ear piercing. And to stay in there is painful," Gruen said. "And they've had these alarms go off before without anything being wrong. Yet they were not allowed to go back upstairs."

Despite a lack of flames, the restaurant was badly damaged.

"Mostly water damage," Gruen said. "And in the kitchen of Blue Stone, between the walls, they have torn everything out and moved a lot of equipment. And there's structural damage down below."

Gruen says he does plan to reopen and he's just grateful no one was hurt.

Investigators are still looking into the cause of the fire. A neighboring restaurant, called Mercato, was also damaged.

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