A fire ripped through Howie's Pizza and Subs in Sayre early Tuesday morning, destroying the South Keystone Avenue building.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation by a state police fire marshal Tuesday evening, but the fire originated somewhere in the rear third of the building, said chief Tom Yonkin of the Sayre Fire Department. Insurance investigators were also on scene Tuesday evening, Yonkin said.

Emergency responders were called out to the fire at about 1:27 a.m. Tuesday after nurses on Robert Packer Hospital's ninth floor noticed flames coming from the area of the restaurant and contacted hospital command, Yonkin said. A neighbor of the restaurant reported the fire to emergency officials at about the same time, Yonkin said.

A mobile intensive care unit at the hospital was first to arrive at the scene and could see heavy fire through the building and its roof, Yonkin said.

The building had been added onto and built over several times since it was initially built around 1970, leaving empty spaces that enabled the fire to travel into the structure's mansard roof and down to other areas of the restaurant, Yonkin said.

Firefighters initially attacked the blaze from inside the building, but exited once the roof became unstable, Yonkin said. The roof had two heavy air conditioning units on it, making it more likely to collapse, he said. Fire departments then continued fighting the fire with defensive streams from the outside, Yonkin said.

It took firefighters about two and a half hours to get the fire under control, said Yonkin, who called the blaze "a stubborn, difficult fire."

No firefighters or civilians were injured and no neighboring buildings were damaged, Yonkin said.

South Keystone Avenue was closed for several hours between Lockhart and Linden streets, with traffic detoured onto Lincoln, Elmira and McDuffee streets, according to the state Department of Transportation. PennDOT reopened the closed portion of the road at about 9:40 a.m. Tuesday.

Part of South Hopkins Street directly behind the restaurant was also closed and remained blocked off to traffic Tuesday afternoon.

Sayre firefighters were assisted by Athens Borough, Athens Township, Waverly-Barton, Ulster-Sheshequin, Chemung and South Waverly fire departments and Greater Valley EMS, Yonkin said. Don Howard, the owner of Howie's, is chief of the Waverly-Barton Fire Department.

Yonkin said Howard's first concern was the neighboring residents and over 20 employees of the restaurant that had temporarily lost their jobs with the holidays approaching.

"That tells you what kind of a guy he is," Yonkin said.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.