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Buffalo firefighter dies while battling downtown blaze

buffalo fire death.jpg
Thomas O'Neil-White
A Buffalo firefighter died in the line of duty on Wednesday after a three story building on Main Street caught fire.

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) —Mayor Byron Brown on Thursday identified the Buffalo firefighter who died in an explosive fire at a downtown building as a 37-year-old married father, and said federal and state agencies would be involved in investigating "the causes of the fire and how this situation unfolded."

Demolition of the commercial Main Street structure has been suspended, Brown said, while the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and New York state fire officials assist the Buffalo Fire Department in conducting a review.

Firefighter Jason Arno's body was recovered from the brick building several hours after he was reported missing early on in the four-alarm fire. Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said Arno was 30 to 40 feet inside when he issued a mayday call, which led to the emergency evacuation of everyone inside. Arno was not heard from again.

On Thursday, Renaldo said the building was relatively clear when firefighters entered it, but firefighters soon were faced with not only a partial collapse but an explosive backdraft - captured on video - that sent flames, smoke and debris shooting from the first floor windows and knocked firefighters outside to the sidewalk.

Renaldo said the abrupt introduction of oxygen when a fire is smoldering can cause the oxygen to be "sucked into the building and blown back."

"A backdraft is a very rare occurrence," Renaldo said at a news conference. "The building was clear, which is the case many times when we enter a structure. So it was safe to enter at the time and the chief made that determination. I cannot say there were any mistakes made at that fire."

It is not unusual for ATF and state fire officials to be involved in investigations, he said.

"They bring a lot of our knowledge, expertise, equipment and funding to the fight as well, so their assistance is very welcome," he said.

While the cause remains under investigation, Renaldo on Wednesday speculated that heat from blowtorches being used on the building's exterior may have transferred through brick or mortar and ignited paper or other combustibles inside. The building, which housed a theatrical costumes shop, was unoccupied when the fire started, Renaldo said.

Arno had been a firefighter for three years, was married over the summer and had a 3-year-old daughter, Renaldo said.

"The whole future in front of him and an exemplary firefighter and employee," the commissioner said, "just a great all-around person."

Brown requested that city landmarks be lit in red in Arno's honor beginning Thursday. City flags were flying at half-staff.

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