Panic, fear, and calm: reactions to the Bethlehem Steel fire 2 years later

LACKAWANNA, N.Y (WKBW) - November 9, 2016 was a morning that got off to a great start for Melissa Jenkins. 

She's the owner of Woodlawn Diner

"We were really busy in the morning, it was nice out, not super cold," she said.

Then she smelled something burning...

"We kept checking everywhere, everywhere for it...I went outside and I looked down the street, and we came out, and we were watching, and that was when the first explosion."

Jenkins says the fire was spectacle, many stopped their cars to gawk and watch...but Jenkins' mind was elsewhere.

"My husband works at Republic Steel and I couldn't get ahold of him, and he was there."

Republic Steel is on the other end of the grounds where Bethlehem Steel burned to th ground for days.

Jenkins tells 7 Eyewitness News that since no one was sure where the fire started, and whether it was a safety risk, employees at Republic were held for hours before being sent home.

"I couldn't get ahold of him and when I finally did, he's like 'I'm okay, they're sending us all home.'"

We spoke with many people living along Lincoln Ave - facing the Steel plant - and they told us they chose to stay. 

Neighbors say the wind was blowing the smoke clouds in the opposite direction of their homes, and other than the air quality, they were not in fear of their homes being burned. 

The cause of the fire is still unclear...but what is coming into focus is what may happen to the site.

7 Eyewitness News received the following statement from Great Lakes Industrial Development, the owners of the facility:

“The fire in 2016 was devastating, and the ongoing recovery has been, and will continue to be, a Herculean effort. To date, the clean-up and associated costs have been in the millions of dollars, and the total recovery will cost millions more. However, we are committed to continuing and completing this journey. Today, there are 17 companies that operate at Steel Works Industrial Park, bringing 90 jobs to Lackawanna. We are incredibly proud of this accomplishment and remain committed to the growth, development and success of the property, so that we can continue to bring businesses and jobs to the facility. While this is a long and arduous recovery, we believe the long-term future of Steel Works Industrial Park is good.”

A new $1.8M shoreline trail just opened nearby -- with the hope that these projects breathe new life into the steel city.


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