Laste modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013
HADLEY — Authorities continue to investigate the cause of an Oct. 27 blaze that destroyed 13 small businesses and two apartments at the Norwottuck Shoppes plaza on Route 9.

Investigators provided no new details about their work by midweek, but continue to focus on the Coin-Op Laundromat where they believe the nighttime blaze began, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

During the past week, officials have asked anyone who left laundry the night of the fire to call the Hadley Fire Department at 584-0874. People who claim laundry left at the business could help investigators pinpoint the time of the incident and location of the fire’s origin, according to Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services.

“There are still a couple of people who they are hoping will come in and claim their laundry,” Mieth said. “They believe that’s where it started.”

As the investigation continues, relief efforts for the many small businesses and restaurants lost in the blaze continue under the umbrella of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber helped organize an initial meeting of fire victims last week and more than $9,000 was donated to a fire relief fund as of midweek, according to Tony Maroulis, the chamber’s executive director.

Meantime, town officials say they are doing all they can to assist fire victims, including helping expedite the process for businesses that want to rebuild and relocate in Hadley. Those efforts include talks with the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to extend the renewal date of Mi Tierra restaurant’s liquor license.

“We’ve been trying to help them get the information they need,” said Town Administrator David G. Nixon. “We’re trying to make it as easy and expedited as we can.”

In addition to the businesses lost, residents in two studio apartments at the plaza were left homeless and three house cats that lived in one of those units remain missing.

Firefighters have told the owner of the cats that the remains of two cats, which they could not identify, were found on the property, according to displaced tenant Alexandra Yeskie.

Yeskie, who is 38, lived with her cats in a second-floor studio unit, one of two residential apartments in the plaza. She did not have insurance and lost everything in the blaze, she said, including her cats named Tina, Peaches and Jerry.

Yeskie said she knows it is possible the cats all died in the blaze, but hopes one or all of them may still be alive. “I’m still hoping that somebody out there will find them,” she said Monday.

The Hadley Police Department has posted photos of the cats at the public safety complex on East Street.

Officer Mitchell Kuc, who was on the scene when the fire broke out, said he recalled seeing at least one cat in Yeskie’s apartment when he and others cleared the units, but it disappeared before he could rescue it. The fire was burning at the other end of the plaza at the time, he said.

“It’s very possible that that cat did get out,” Kuc said. “We left the doors open. We know that there was at least one cat inside.”

Yeskie moved into the apartment last September and was staying overnight at a friend’s house when the fire broke out Oct. 27. She found out about it the next day. The occupants of the other residential unit could not be reached in recent days.

Yeskie’s cats are described as two short-haired females, one gray and white, and the other an overweight, black and brown tiger-striped feline. The third cat is a long-haired gray and white male. None of the cats had collars or tags. Anyone with information about the cats should call 250-2422.

Yeskie had the cats for the last six years and said they would likely be timid because they were indoor cats.

Mieth said cats and dogs, because they are lower to the ground, often find their way to safety when trapped in fires, “but not always,” she said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.