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Detectives: Roofers Started Fire That Torched Port Washington Building

Firefighters battle a blaze in Port Washington, NY on Thursday, March 14, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

Firefighters battle a blaze in Port Washington, NY on Thursday, March 14, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

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PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Detectives looking into the blaze that displaced dozens of residents from a Nassau County building where a fire broke out Thursday say roofing contractors caused it.

At least 150 firefighters from six departments spent nearly 12 hours battling the blaze on Main Street in Port Washington.

Thick smoke poured from attic spaces into six apartments and three businesses.

“It was just engulfed, engulfed, engulfed in flames,” said store owner Robert Pachtman.

The stores were all gutted, police said.

Power was cut to dozens of Main Street homes and businesses and authorities were forced to shut down a multiple-block stretch of the town.

The roofing contractors were using a propane torch which ignited a fire in the walls of the building, detectives said.

“Perhaps they weren’t following the rules and regulations that govern people working on the roof, whether they were or were not working with propane and how they were working with that,” said Nassau County Fire Marshal James Hickman.

Port Washington Fire Chief Geoffrey Cole told WCBS 880 reporter Sophia Hall that the extensive damage could have been prevented if the workers had immediately called 911.

“When they did find out about it, they attempted to extinguish it themselves and that was the situation when our firemen came upon it and notified our dispatcher of the fire,” he said. “We have no phone calls on the fire from anybody.”

A firefighter suffered an injured ankle, and a utility worker suffered a minor injury caused by a falling shingle from the building.

Six families were displaced by the fire and are being helped by the Red Cross.