MONTREAL (AP) - About 150 firefighters salvaged much of the
historic Atwater Market after a blaze broke out over the weekend on
the third floor and quickly spread to the roof.
Fire Chief Georges Aumais feared Montreal would lose the
landmark when he saw flames and black smoke billow from the
69-year-old market Saturday night.
"I said to myself, `We can't lose this place,"' a relieved
Aumais said Sunday morning after his firefighters confined 90 per
cent of the damage to a third-floor gymnasium where the fire
started.
"At one stage, it was 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit up there and
there were 90 firefighters wearing breathing apparatus. I tried to
go up there myself, but it was just too hot."
The 40 stores and speciality shops that occupy the market's
first and second floors suffered minor smoke and water damage and
should reopen early this week, city officials said Sunday.
Aumais said his men managed to limit the damage to the shops by
diverting water from the third floor down a staircase behind the
shops.
"I am very proud of my men," Aumais said. "They were very
aggressive and they saved the market. It is a great old building."
Food inspectors visited the scene Sunday to see if any of the
perishables in the ground floor stores could be salvaged.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, however a fire
spokesman said it did not appear to be arson.
A gymnastics club on the third floor was supposed to hold a
performance Sunday and the gym was packed with dozens of plastic
chairs, gym mats and other equipment that helped fuel the blaze.
It took firefighters three hours to get the fire under control
and eight hours to extinguish it. Two firefighters suffered minor
injuries.
Although there was no structural damage to the building, fire
damage could reach several million dollars, officials said.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay said firefighters did a
remarkable job containing most of the damage to the top two floors.
"This market is an institution," Tremblay said as he stood in
the main lobby. "People have been coming here to shop for decades
and we will do everything we can to ensure it will be open for
business as soon as possible."
Construction of the market began under mayor Camillien Houde in
1931 as a make-work project during the Depression.
Designed by a father-and-son team of architects, Ludger and Paul
Lemieux, the Art Deco-style building is distinguished by its clock
tower, originally criticized as an "unnecessary extravagance"
after $400,000 in construction cost overruns.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)