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Firefighters Investigating Cause of Blaze as Witnesses Tell of Harrowing Escape

Witnesses say fire spread quickly, gutting strip mall.

Firefighters say they are investigating the cause of blaze that ripped through a strip mall Tuesday night, gutting the buildings.

"We're going all the preliminary work now," said Senior Fire Inspector Andy Vargo.

As they waited for permission to enter the businesses, investigators spoke with the owner of the mall, Arnold Peck of of Commercial World Real Estate.

Peck said he was shocked at the news of the fire -- just glad no one was hurt.

Witnesses said the fire started in the back of Tobacco Junction, near the cash register, and spread quickly to all the other stores in the strip mall, including a hair salon, Looks Hair Design.

It was about 8 p.m. when those in the hair salon smelled smoke and went outside to investigate. A couple of them peered into Tobacco Junction and saw flames a couple of feet high behind the counter.

"When I saw the flames I immediately yelled, 'Call 911!' " said hair stylist Alicia Sameone.

Smoke spread rapidly through the dropped ceiling.

Those in the hair salon grabbed their purses and keys -- and escaped with their lives.

"We're very fortunate," the owner of Looks, Diana Sullivan, said.

"It was like grab whatever..." she said.

"...save yourself because all the other stuff can be replaced. You know, that's what insurance is for," her husband, Mark Sullivan, who was home at the time of the fire, chimed in.

He said seven stylists shared five chairs in the salon. He was hoping that a flashdrive containing their client list and other important information was salvageable.

He described the relationship between the shops as tight-knit. The women barbers next door at Sante's Barber Shop would come to the salon to have their hair done, he said.

"Our whole lives were in there," Diane Sullivan said. "Everything you need to work, from A to Z, is in there."

They said they hope to re-open as soon as possible and, as Mark Sullivan put it, "be bigger and better" next time.

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