WEST HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — An investigation is underway Tuesday to find the cause of the massive fire that heavily damaged the Weis supermarket in West Hazleton Monday night.

Investigators believe the fire may have started in a heating and air conditioning unit on the roof. Firefighters say it was one of the most intense fires they have ever seen.

The flames were intense and the smoke intense as the inferno showed no mercy as it roared on the roof of the Weis Market in West Hazleton.

“We did experience an explosion while we were operating on the roof. There was an explosion no doubt about it. It was heard throughout the area,” explained Chief Richard Sparks of the West Hazleton Fire Department.

The fire started around 9:20 Monday night. It was spotted by two utility workers.

“PPL employees that were driving by did say they saw a fireball come off the roof. It attracted their attention that led them to investigate further,” stated Sparks.

The fire was burning near the HVAC unit. Firefighters were on the roof but soon had to retreat.

“Last night fire behavior was so erratic because we had winds nearly 40 miles per hour gusts that were driving the flames. It spread it rapidly across the roof it was quite the sight,” said Sparks.

Because of those winds, it took hours to extinguish the blaze. Flames also damaged the PetSmart store next to Weis. Animals were taken to nearby PetSmart locations.

Weis officials wasted no time in assessing the damage and starting clean-up operations.

“The roof is a total loss. The product inside the building is a total loss…equipment we’ll see. We’ll see what can be salvaged,” stated Kurt Schertle, COO of Weis Markets.

Schertle says their goal is simple.

“We’ll do the right thing to eventually reopen as quickly as possible a shining new Weis Market to serve this community,” explained Schertle.

One West Hazleton firefighter suffered from smoke inhalation and siege. The firefighter spent the night in the hospital.

The store employs about 200 people they will be offered jobs at Weis stores in the region. This fire is the talk of the town. There has been an impact on other supermarkets in this area.

“I’m glad that nobody was hurt that’s a good thing and I’ll miss shopping at the store. Yeah I figured when there were no cars around I thought something happened,” said Barbara Haubert.

Bob Shewack walked up to the doors and were turned away by firefighters.

“We don’t come here an awful lot. I mean we live nearby, three blocks away. When we need one thing it’s one of the closer places to come and buy,” explained Shewack.

Grocery stores in the region say they have seen the ripple effect of the Weis fire. Brent Radzwich is manager of Gould’s Shur Sav in the Conyngham Valley.

“People first thing this morning shopping at our store. We have a lot of customers who shop multiple stores and first thing this morning you can tell our customer count was up and the parking lot was full and a lot of traffic,” stated Radzwich.

Weis officials say they plan on reopening this store. No timetable has been given. No word on the future of the PetSmart store.

In a statement the Weis Market stated;

We are grateful to the West Hazleton Fire Department and Chief Richard Sparks along with the other participating fire companies for their rapid response to the fire. We are also grateful no one was seriously injured.

Presently, we are looking to relocate our Hazleton store’s pharmacy to a temporary location and hope to reopen within the next several weeks. Customers with pharmacy questions can call 1-866-999-9347. We will also reopen our West Hazleton Weis Gas N’ Go fuel center in the coming days. 

We are currently in the process of reassigning this store’s 191 full and part-time associates to one of five Weis locations in the area and assessing the damage that occurred to the building.We believe the fire damage is contained to the roof while the store interior suffered smoke and water damage. As a precaution, we will destroy all the products in the store.

We will determine the extent of the damage to our store and develop a plan and timeline for repairing and reopening our store. We’ve been in Hazleton for more than 60 years and are grateful to the community for its long-time support.

Weis Market