Community comes together in fire’s wake

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — Medical examiners are being forced to use DNA to identify the remains found late last week among the rubble of High Tread International, a process that will take much longer than first expected.

That’s because dental records given to authorities by the family of 14-year-old Joseph Phillips are too old.

Investigators are hoping to determine whether the remains are those of Phillips, who hasn’t been heard from since the fire broke out Wednesday evening. 

Meanwhile, cleanup continued at the burned out site of High Tread International, as charred debris was loaded and sent to the local landfill by the truckload.

While back yards along Stevens Street were filled with flames Wednesday night, they were filled Monday with insurance adjusters assessing the damage, which was kept to a minimum, blackened trees and scorched earth. 

A block away, Kathy O’Keefe, owner of Windsor Village Shops, was helping her neighbors catch up on yard work. 

“Some of the people didn’t get around to catching up on mowing and stuff,” O’Keefe said. “I have a riding lawnmower so I just thought I’d ride around the neighborhood and be Forrest Gump today.”

The fear from last week’s fire is still fresh for Kathy and her neighbors. 

“I’ve never seen a fire so huge. I was just terrified when I pulled up, and yet they ran right in there, and they took care of us, so we should take care of them,” she said.

Arlene Whitenight and her daughter Brittny spent Monday evening passing out flowers to residents in this neighborhood, on their old street, providing sunshine with sunflowers, to brighten what’s been a dark five and a half days. 

“It’s just a special place in our heart,” Whitenight said. “And we thought that during this aftermath of the fire and the bleak surroundings that we would just share some sunflowers, put a smile on their face and let them know that they are loved and prayed for that hopefully when they get up in the morning and see them on the kitchen table, that’ll start their day off on a good note.”
A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday morning, when Lockport officials are expected to update the public on the investigation into the fire.

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