1. #1
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Post Lake Wales Fla--4-Alarm Fire Destroys Hardware Store

    Huge fire levels hardware store

    By DANIEL PREKOPA
    danielp@newschief.com

    LAKE WALES -- A fire at the True Value Hardware store in downtown Lake Wales destroyed the building and forced fire crews to close off four blocks of downtown on Saturday evening.

    According to Deputy Chief Danford, fire crews reported to the scene at 7:06 p.m. to find heavy smoke conditions inside the building, to the point where there was almost zero visibility inside.

    Firemen managed to get 20 feet inside the building before fire broke through the ceiling and firemen evacuated the building.

    Danford said the fire probably started in the attic of the building because that was where the fire broke through. The roof eventually collapsed and the walls collapsed inward.

    There were no initial reports of injury, but Danford said he did not know if anyone was in the building because they were unable to check the entire building before it had to be evacuated.

    Fire crews from the Lake Wales, Polk County, Winter Haven and Bartow stations were out at the scene past 10 p.m. on Saturday working on containing exposure to other buildings. Danford said they had been successful at keeping the fire contained, although surrounding buildings do have water damage and damage from access holes the fire crews had to make.

    "We also have a concern about exposure from the back side of the building," Danford said.

    The fire forced officials to completely close off the area, including Park Avenue, Stewart Street and Orange Street because of the number of fire trucks and equipment which were needed to battle the four-alarm blaze. All units from the Lake Wales Fire Department were at the scene. Winter Haven and Bartow fire departments sent one engine each and the Polk County Fire Department sent three apparatuses and two engines.

    No initial damage report was available, although the store is completely destroyed because of the fire, Danford said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Post Follow Up

    Store Fire to Be Investigated

    By Bill Bair
    The Ledger
    billbair1@aol.com

    LAKE WALES -- A crane is expected to begin lifting beams and debris today as officials of the State Fire Marshal's Office attempt to determine the cause of a Saturday night fire that destroyed True Value Hardware in downtown Lake Wales.

    Firefighters were still on the scene Sunday morning, pouring water on hot spots in the smoldering remains of the building.

    Crews from Florida Power restored electric service to the remaining portions of the downtown area.

    True Value owner Cliff Tonjes watched from a sidewalk across the street.

    Beyond determining a cause, Tonjes said, "I don't think there's anything left to sort through."

    That included all his records, which were kept in the building. Tonjes said his wife, Carol, was at home on the Internet trying to find out how to contact his insurance carrier.

    Tonjes, 65, a Lake Wales city commissioner and downtown activist, said he still doesn't know what he will do. He estimated damage at $300,000 to $500,000.

    No one was injured in the fire.

    Tonjes had closed about 5:30 p.m. Saturday and gone to dinner in Frostproof with his wife, returning after 7 p.m. to find the building on fire and firefighters on the scene.

    Tonjes said his son, Larry, who also works in the store, was at a conference and buyers show at Marco Island.

    Tonjes said he left a message on his son's cell phone Saturday night, telling him "don't buy much, the store burned."

    Tonjes said his son initially did not believe the message, but contacted the Lake Wales Police Department for confirmation.

    Meanwhile, other downtown business owners were checking their own places Sunday.

    With the electricity still off Sunday morning, Sandy Elia, owner of Sandy's Market Cafe, was loading frozen food into her car to take to a freezer elsewhere.

    Located across a 10-foot alley from True Value, Elia said she found "no fire damage."

    Beef O Brady's, across the same alley from the southeast corner of True Value, was back in business Sunday after a hasty Saturday evacuation.

    Don Bastin, one of the owners, said about 35 patrons were in the sports pub, preparing to watch college football, when the fire was reported shortly after 7 p.m.

    "They gave us about 15 minutes to evacuate," Bastin said.

    Bastin said employees checked everyone out, prepared to-go boxes, took the cash box and closed the restaurant.

    He said freezer doors were left closed and none of the about $10,000 worth of food had been affected by the time power was restored Sunday morning.

    At the Remember When Bakery and Ice Cream Shop, just east of True Value, firefighters Sunday nailed on plastic sheets up to cover holes cut in the roof Saturday night.

    With smoke billowing everywhere, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Danford said the holes were cut in the roof to ensure that the fire had not spread from True Value to the attic of the adjacent building.

    Danford said Remember When has suffered a little water damage, but no fire damage.

    A common firewall between the buildings "did what it was supposed to do," he said, allowing firefighters to stop the spread of the fire.

    Even with the help of three aerial trucks and fire units from all over East Polk County, Danford said it would have been difficult to stop the fire from spreading into much of the downtown area, including the historic Arcade, if it had spread into the adjacent structure.

    Firefighters were assisted by a wind out of the southeast, which blew the flames and smoke away from other buildings, he said.

    Danford said it was the biggest fire in Lake Wales since fire destroyed Badcock Furniture on State Road 60 in 1986.

    Danford said the department was lucky there were no injuries on the True Value fire.

    He said fire erupted in the smoky building and "blew down" on the first two firefighters to enter.

    Deputy Chief Henry Croley said exploding paint cans took out one of the double doors at the entrance to the building as the firefighters backed out the other door.

    He said the remains of exploded aerosol cans were later found more than a half-block from the store.

    Danford said 19 of the department's 20 firefighters were at the scene.

    The 20th firefighter was at the football game in Tallahassee "and he called in," Danford said.

    Bill Bair can be reached at billbair1@aol.com or 863-676-7118.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  3. #3
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Post Store Owned By Commissioner

    The hardware store was owned by a LW commissioner
    The hardware store was owned by a LW commissioner

    By STEVEN N. LEVINE
    ncpub@earthlink.net

    LAKE WALES -- Lake Wales firefighters Sunday afternoon continued overhauling the wreckage of a downtown business 18 hours after flames gutted the True Value Hardware store early Saturday evening

    State fire marshals Sunday also sifted through the still hot ash of the business at 200 E. Park Ave. owned by city commissioner and former mayor Cliff Tonjes.

    Investigators still have no cause for the fire. Tonjes owned the building, according to fire department records. The building had neither a fire alarm or sprinkler system, Tonjes said.

    There were no obvious sources of ignition and no recent electrical problems, Tonjes said. Insurance investigators will also be on the scene, he said. The state fire marshal's office planned to assign a team to investigate the fire's origin, he said.

    "From what we heard, they'll be down there all week," Lake Wales Fire Lt. Joe Jenkins said.

    The building was stocked a large number of chemicals but Jenkins doubted that a hazardous materials hazard remained. Tests will be conducted to confirm the assumption, he said.

    "There were insecticides, but the fire itself would have destroyed them," Jenkins said.

    Roughly 55 firefighters from Lake Wales, Polk County, Winter Haven and Bartow battled the blaze reported just after 7 p.m. using six pumpers and three aerial platform trucks.

    The last firefighters returned to their station about 11:35 p.m. Sunday.

    The fire caused minor water and smoke damage to an adjoining structure separated by a fire wall, Jenkins said. Firefighters also cut holes in the adjacent bakery's shared roof to check whether the fire had spread, he said.

    No injuries were reported. East Park Avenue remained closed Sunday. The Polk County chapter of the American Red Cross provided food and drinks to emergency workers at the scene.

    Tonjes, who operated the business for a quarter century, was unsure whether he'd rebuild. "That's not the type of decision you make when you're under stress," he said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  4. #4
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Post Follow up

    Crew, Crane Begin Store Fire Cleanup

    By Bill Bair
    The Ledger
    billbair1@aol.com

    LAKE WALES -- A team from the State Fire Marshal's Office is expected to complete its investigation this week, but it will take a little longer to remove all the rubble that was once the True Value Hardware store in downtown Lake Wales.

    However, owner Cliff Tonjes said he expects the property to be cleaned up within another week.

    The quick cleanup would be good news to downtown merchants.

    Directors of the Lake Wales Main Street program held an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss ways of minimizing the impact the Saturday evening fire has on other parts of the downtown area.

    The immediate problem is that Park Avenue, which is one way, remains closed for the investigation and cleanup.

    Long term, the goal is to convince Tonjes to rebuild, or find someone else willing to do so, Main Street President Judy Kahler said.

    "We don't want to see a vacant lot there," she said. "We'd like to see True Value go back in."

    Kahler said a hardware store, and the traffic it generates, is "very healthy for the mix in downtown."

    Using a crane and other equipment, crews for a contractor hired by Tonjes' insurance company began lifting rubble Tuesday afternoon, as the team from the Fire Marshal's Office prepared to sift through the remains for clues to the fire's origins.

    "Once the roof is off, then we can go to work," investigator Brandon Ball said.

    The roof collapsed onto the rubble of the interior during the fire.

    Walls of the building are also leaning, which poses a safety problem. Until that's corrected, fire officials say that section of Park Avenue will remain closed.

    With the street closed, other business owners in the area are suffering, Kahler said.

    Main Street directors voted to establish a fund to assist those businesses, voting to allocate $2,000 as seed money.

    The directors also voted to ask the city's Community Redevelopment Area board and the Chamber of Commerce to at least match that amount and seek donations from others.

    Kahler said many business owners downtown operate on a small profit margin and cannot afford the loss of income.

    Donna Franz, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said she will also explore the possibility of obtaining lowinterest loans from the Small Business Administration to assist business owners.

    Franz said tax-deductible donations to the disaster relief fund should be made out to the Lake Wales Area Foundation and sent to the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 191, Lake Wales, 33859. She said Main Street directors will set up criteria for distributing the funds.

    The Main Street directors also made a variety of recommendations, which City Manager Tony Otte said he would implement immediately.

    Those included using more members of the Police Department's auxiliary VOICE unit to direct pedestrian and automobile traffic in the area and rerouting traffic through some parking lots to improve access.

    In addition, Otte said the city will provide additional signs to direct shoppers through the downtown area and step up enforcement of parking regulations.

    While True Value was on the Marketplace Mall at Park Avenue, the impact is even being felt a block over on Stuart Avenue, said Jerry Benedict, owner of BSD Galleries.

    Sarah Padgett, a Main Street board member and owner of Bittersweet Memories, noted the work that Tonjes has done in promoting and maintaining the downtown area.

    Board members were unified in their stated desire to see Tonjes rebuild.

    Tonjes, 65, a Lake Wales city commissioner, said he has not decided what he will do and will not make a decision under the stress of the situation.

    He continues to arrive in the downtown area early, sitting in a lawn chair across the street from the rubble of his store, talking to supporters or working on Marketplace landscaping.

    "That's his home, he's got to be there," Padgett said.

    Monday night, Tonjes assisted in removing the decorative posts that prevent automobile access to the Marketplace so they would not be damaged during the cleanup.

    Tuesday morning, he was hand-watering plants in the Marketplace.

    "You just think of the dumbest things," Tonjes said. He had turned off the sprinkler system since several sprinkler heads were damaged during the firefighting effort.

    "Nothing has changed," he said. "There's nothing you can do."

    Tonjes has closed the hardware store he's operated in downtown Lake Wales for a quarter-century about 5:30 p.m. Saturday and gone to Frostproof to dinner with his wife, Carol.

    When they returned to Lake Wales after 7 p.m., they saw smoke rising in the downtown area, checked it out and found firefighters already on the scene.

    The store was a total loss.

    Tonjes placed the value at $300,000 to $500,000, but officials of the Fire Marshal's Office said it could be closer to $1 million.

    Bill Bair can be reached at billbair1@aol.com or 863-676-7118.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  5. #5
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Post State Fire Marshal Determines Cause

    Marshal: Light fixture started LW store fire
    By KYLE KENNEDY
    kyle.kennedy@newschief.com


    LAKE WALES -- Investigators have ruled a Saturday night fire that incinerated the True Value Hardware store downtown an accident, fire marshal's spokesman Mike Douglas said.

    Douglas said the fire originated in the ceiling in the southwest corner of the store, close to where hardware and paint were kept. He said a malfunctioning fluorescent light fixture touched a tile in the ceiling and set it alight.

    "Once that fluorescent light malfunctioned it had a source to feed. It took off," Douglas said. "It's definitely an accidental fire. There's no question."

    Douglas said the store's fiberboard ceiling tiles were of an older variety that do not resist fire. He estimated damage to the business at $1 million.

    The weeklong investigation was conducted with assistance from the state fire marshal's Heat Team, a new unit composed of investigators throughout the state.

    Douglas said the Heat Team allows the agency to examine major fires without pulling too many investigators away from one office, freeing up personnel.

    With the investigation finished, the next step will be clearing the remains.

    Lake Wales Fire Chief Tom Tucker said a contractor will arrive next week to demolish the site and clean up debris.

    He said Park Avenue, which has been closed since the fire, could be barricaded near the site but re-opened at the other end as early as Monday.

    "We're trying to get it opened back up as soon as possible," he said.

    According to police reports, owner Cliff Tonjes closed the store around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. After returning from dinner at 7 p.m., he found the building engulfed in flames.

    The True Value Hardware store was an anchor in the downtown business community for 27 years.

    Tonjes has not said whether he will rebuild.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  6. #6
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Default Update

    Site of Destroyed Store to be Donated to City

    By Bill Bair
    The Ledger
    billbair1@aol.com

    LAKE WALES -- Once cleared of rubble, the site of the former True Value Hardware Store in downtown Lake Wales will be donated to the city, owner Cliff Tonjes said Monday.

    Tonjes, a city commissioner, said he thinks the best use of the property would be as a landscaped parking lot, "but this would be the city's decision."

    The hardware store was destroyed by fire Sept. 13 that investigators for the State Fire Marshal's Office blame on a light fixture.

    Tonjes' son, Larry, plans to reopen a True Value Hardware store in mid-to-late November in the former Friedlander's Department Store building at Park Avenue and First Street.

    "He's a very generous man," Lake Wales Main Street President Judy Kahler said of Tonjes' plans to donate the property to the city.

    Kahler said there had already been some discussion of acquiring the property. One proposal, she said, would be to use it to expand the Marketplace Mall, providing more room for events.

    Tonjes said the parking lot could be closed for such events, but parking would probably be the best way to use the lot.

    "It's easier to use a parking lot for events than to use the Marketplace for parking," he said.

    Tonjes said there would be room for ample landscaping and about 20 parking spaces on the property.

    In addition, Tonjes said he would favor the painting of a mural on the wall of the adjacent building, once it is exposed.

    Kahler also supports that proposal, saying Main Street already has money designated for mural projects.

    Before anything can be done, the property must be cleared.

    "We'd like to see it cleaned up as soon as possible so it's presentable and safe," Kahler said.

    Large commercial trash containers remain at the site, but no rubble has been removed since the Fire Marshal's Office completed its investigation.

    Tonjes said it is up to his insurance company to do that job. Tonjes said he has made repeated calls in an attempt to speed the process.

    Meanwhile, Park Avenue, which was closed after the fire because of safety concerns, has been reopened.

    Portions of walls, which could have collapsed into the street, were removed during the investigation.

    A section of the street could be temporarily closed again during the cleanup.

    Bill Bair can be reached at billbair1@aol.com or 863-6767118.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  7. #7
    District Chief
    distchief60b's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2001
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    6,413

    Post Follow Up--Back in Business

    Tonjeses ready to reopen after fire
    By KYLE KENNEDY
    kyle.kennedy@newschief.com

    LAKE WALES -- Opening a store is nothing new for Cliff and Larry Tonjes.

    In advance of the Monday opening of Cliff's True Value Hardware, Larry Tonjes was feeling the pressure.

    "It's the seventh time we've actually opened a store, so it's the same process, only we're doing it in a much speedier fashion," he said Wednesday. "It's both scary and exciting at the same time, like a roller coaster."

    The Tonjeses are moving fast indeed, considering everything that has happened.

    Less than three months ago, a Sept. 13 night fire leveled their True Value Hardware on Park Avenue. The store had been a downtown fixture for 27 years, serving as a place to find general household items or conversation with local residents.

    Investigators with the state Fire Marshal's Office determined that a malfunctioning fluorescent light fixture started the blaze. The fire consumed the building and caused an estimated $1 million damage.

    The new True Value is located in the former Friedlander's Department Store building at Park Avenue and First Street, within walking distance of its predecessor.

    When the store opens, Larry Tonjes will take over as owner. His father, a city commissioner, has donated the previous site to the city.

    "He'd like to see it become a parking lot, but he put no stipulations on the donation," Larry Tonjes said.

    Cliff Tonjes has said the site could be converted into a landscaped lot to be used for extra parking and a place to hold downtown events.

    Local business group Lake Wales Main Street also has suggested a park, and possibly painting a mural at the site.

    For now, the Tonjeses' primary concern is getting True Value Hardware back on its feet. There's still quite a bit of preparation left, but Larry Tonjes said he and his father have been assisted by friends who volunteered.

    Like the previous True Value, Larry Tonjes said he hopes the new store will become an integral piece of the downtown business community.

    "I think the biggest thing we'll be up against is people finding us, even though we're a block away," he said. "But it is a more visible location; it has lots of window frontage. It is a unique building."

    Larry Tonjes said an official grand opening will be held in January.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

Thread Information

Users Browsing this Thread

There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Log in

Click here to log in or register