Police, ATF seek cause of 3-alarm fire that gutted business

'It was like an oven building up'

BERN TWP., Pa. - A team of federal, state, and local investigators is on the case of a fire that heavily damaged a family-owned business in Berks County.

State and local police have been joined by agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in their search for what sparked the fire at Evans Food Distributors in Bern Township on Sunday.

"It's pointing toward not suspicious. It's pointing to either possibly electrical or heating related or something like that," Det. Sgt. Michael Hoffert, Bern Township police, told 69 News. "The ATF has been called in due to the magnitude of the fire."

The blaze was reported shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday at the company's headquarters and warehouse in the 1900 block of Bernville Road, also known as Route 183, about halfway between the Reading Regional Airport and the township's border with Reading.

"Smoke detectors and motion detectors activated," Hoffert said.

The first crews arrived to find heavy smoke billowing from the front of the building, which is where investigators seemed to be focusing a good amount of their attention Monday morning.

The fire went to three alarms before firefighters from several area departments could bring it under control.

"What made it difficult for fire companies is this structure is completely brick and has a cement roof," Hofferet said. "The fire was contained inside. It was like an oven building up, the heat and the smoke. There was no way for the fire to vent itself."

Firefighters remained on the scene until approximately 4 a.m. Monday.

"Fire departments just pulled back and waited until it died down so they could make entry," Hoffert said. "They were concerned about making entry due to any collapse of the roof. They weren't sure of the stability of the roof at that time."

No serious injuries were reported, but a handful of firefighters had to be transported to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, Hoffert said.

"The entire building, since it's a warehouse distributing-type place, snack place, it was filled with nothing but plastics and cardboard and stuff like that, so it made it thick black smoke and a lot of heat," Hoffert said.

Investigators have not determined a monetary estimate for the amount of damage caused by the fire.

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