New Year's Day fire destroys 7 businesses in downtown Moose Jaw
By TIM COOK
MOOSE JAW, Sask. (CP) - At least seven businesses were destroyed and dozens of people had to leave their homes when fire ripped through part of Moose Jaw's historic downtown on Thursday.
There were no reports of serious injuries, but several firefighters suffered from smoke inhalation and were treated for frozen fingers as a strong wind made it feel like -22 C on New Year's Day.
Dozens of people living in apartments across the street from the block that was burning were told to leave as a safety precaution, said Sgt. Arnie Ellingson of the Moose Jaw Police.
They were taken by bus to the Temple Gardens Mineral Spa to escape the cold. About a half dozen people drank coffee and snacked on sandwiches and Turtles provided by the spa, which also offered to them up for the night.
"I still smell like smoke," said Jack Northwind, one of those evacuated from the apartments across the street from the burning buildings.
Firefighters got the call about 11 a.m. local time about a fire at the Chow Building, which contained a gift shop, coffee shop and ice cream store.
It spread to the adjoining building a few hours later. The severe temperatures hampered firefighting efforts, said Fire Chief Garth Palmer. He said firemen couldn't use breathing apparatus due to the cold.
"I've been with the department 28 years and one of the worst I've seen. It's a huge loss to the city. They've done some extensive renovations in these buildings; it's just a catastrophic loss to the city."
Firefighters continued to battle the blaze Thursday evening, pouring water from ladder trucks onto orange flames, sending smoke and steam high into the sky.
Under the steam and smoke were charred rubble and brick encased in ice.
Icicles dangled from street lights and trees, while the ground resembled an ice rink.
Local restaurants brought steaming cups of coffee, and sandwiches, for the cold and tired firefighters.
Wade McBride, owner of Joyner's Antique Emporium, a store in the second building, told the newspaper the fire was bad for Moose Jaw "because Moose Jaw's economy is based on its history."
The fire had threatened to spread into the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, a major tourist attraction that offers guided tours of underground tunnels where it's claimed infamous gangster Al Capone did some of his bootlegging business. But the firefighters were able to keep it from spreading. However, the attraction had water damage, fire officials said.
Moose Jaw Mayor Al Schwinghamer said the destroyed buildings were some of the city's main heritage structures.
"What's going to arise out of the ashes we certainly have no idea at this point. We do know that's a tremendous blow, not just to those people, but to the community as a whole ... As a community, we did lose some very cherished structures."
The buildings were built in 1892 to replace those destroyed in a fire a year earlier.
Text Forecast from Environment Canada
Calgary: Issued 4.00 PM mst Thursday 1 January 2004
Tonight .. Flurries. Wind north 20 km/h becoming light overnight. Low minus 22 (-8°F) Wind chill minus 30.
Friday .. Cloudy with sunny periods. 60% chance of flurries. High minus 20 (-4°F)
Saturday .. A mix of sun and cloud. 60% chance of flurries. Low minus 27 (-17°F). High minus 23 (-9°F)
Sunday .. Sunny. Low minus 25 (-13°F) High minus 15 (5°F).
Monday .. Sunny. Low minus 20 (-4°F) High minus 13 (9°F)
Normals for the period .. Low minus 16. High minus 4.
STAY SAFE OUT THERE THE NEXT FEW DAYS ALL OF YOU WHO ARE DEALING WITH THIS BONE-CHILLING COLD!!!
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01-01-2004, 11:49 PM #1
- Join Date
- May 2002
- Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!
Fire destroys 7 businesses - FF treated for frozen fingers - too cold to use BASeptember 11th - Never Forget
I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.
IACOJ CRUSTY CONVENTION CHAIR
RAY WAS HERE FIRST
01-03-2004, 01:48 AM #2
- Join Date
- Sep 2002
This is a more detailed story from the Moose Jaw Times Herald.
Friday, January 2, 2004
Fire rocks Main St.
Moose Jaw’s oldest commercial buildings went up in flames Thursday and took at least seven local businesses with them.
Fire crews were called to the zero block of Main Street North at 11 a.m. New Year’s day to contend with a fire that had engulfed the building on the corner of River Street West. Black smoke billowing from the building could be seen from the city’s northern boundaries. The building housed three local businesses, including Treat ’R’ Us, the Hawthorne & Spencer gift shop and Susie’s Pie and Coffee Shop.
It was anything but a happy new year for Grant Chow, owner of the building, who was roused from his bed by the call from authorities informing him of the blaze.
“I don’t know what caused it,” said Chow as he watched the historic building, originally built in 1892, spewing smoke. He had put in a new furnace and new wiring throughout the building when he moved in. “It’s been in my family since the 40s. We took it over from my grandmother a few years ago. It was just mothballed before that and we turned it into a viable business.”
Chow’s face was blank and he spoke calmly as he described the traumatic events of his day, but attributed his demeanor to shock, saying he was “blathering” when he first arrived on the scene.
“I’m kind of sick to my stomach, watching the smoke going out,” he said explaining that his main concern was that no one was hurt and that the fire not spread to neighbouring buildings. “Yeah, my building’s toast right now.”
Fire crews seemed to have contained the fire around 12:30 p.m., but the blaze flared again shortly after 1 p.m. Fire crews had been unable to get good access to the basement of the building, and the flare-up led to the collapse of the roof and walls of the building. Moose Jaw City Police began evacuating both sides of the zero block of Main Street.
By 2 p.m. fire crews believed they had kept the fire from spreading to the adjoining building, although there was at least three feet of water inside Promised Land Gifts and Books, the closest building, and up to one foot in Joyner’s Antique Emporium, also built in 1892.
At that point, Commander Randy Crashley of the Moose Jaw Fire department said crews were concentrating on keeping the flames from spreading to the neighbouring buildings.
Crashley said no one was inside the building at the time the fire started and that no firefighters were injured in the collapse.
“Safety comes first,” said Crashley, saying that the firefighters’ lives were the number one concern of the department. “Buildings can be replaced.”
Crashley speculated that the cause of the fire likely won’t be discovered until spring, if at all. He said the buildings would have to be bull-dozed for safety purposes and the large quantities of water freezing in the rubble would prevent further investigation.
He expected crews would be in until morning monitoring the ashes for hot spots.
What fire crews didn’t expect was that the flames would resurface around 4:30 p.m. as the fire resumed its earlier intensity, spreading into the neighbouring buildings, to the horror of business owners, who spent most of the day watching in fear.
“It’s devastating. It’s the worst day of my life,” said Connie Molson, owner of Paws for Thought, a six-month-old coffee shop adjoining Joyner’s Antique Emporium. “It’s gone. I still can’t believe it’s gone.”
At 5:30 p.m., fire Chief Garth Palmer, covered from head to toe in a layer of ice, said the fire department had called in all of its personnel, and at least 43 firefighters were on site. Promised Land, Joyner’s, Paws for Thought and Past Times Old Time Photography had all been destroyed by the fire.
“All we’re doing is trying to stop the fire from extending to the National Cafe,” said Palmer, referring to the cafe, which had $150,000 damage done to it in a blaze on Jan. 6 of 1968.
The National’s neighbour, the former Land Titles building, which houses the Tunnels of Moose Jaw, a staple of Moose Jaw’s tourism industry as well as the Cornerstone Inn, just south of them, were being doused with water and likely sustained damage.
An empty lot separates the National from the Past Times Photography building and fire hoses were directed to the south side of the blazing structure in hopes that the break would contain the fire.
Palmer said the wind was a major concern. Besides causing a windchill factor of -22 C, it had been blowing smoke and embers to the east side of the street, creating concerns that those buildings might catch fire.
Palmer has the discretion to call in help from neighbouring communities, but Mayor Al Schwinghamer said he was backing Palmer’s assessment that his crew was capable of responding.
Schwinghamer said the fire would be crippling to the entire community.
“To put it mildly, I’m totally devastated,” said the mayor. “Those are some of our main historical heritage structures, and obviously, half of the zero block of Main Street, the west side, has been destroyed. What’s going to arise out of the ashes, we certainly have no idea at this point.
“For the owners, the lessees of those buildings, it’s a tremendous personal blow,” added Schwinghamer.
“And as a community, we did lose some very cherished structures.”
By 9:30 p.m. all the department’s personnel and resources were still being used to battle the inferno.
There were fears of the Past Times building collapsing onto the National Cafe and continuing the wave of destruction.
By 10:30 p.m., Deputy Chief Ken Deans said crews were being rotated off the scene and the blaze was contained but smoke still permeated the area and flames were visible from the wreckage.
“This is a defensive mode to try to keep it from spreading any further. We think we’ve pretty much got it surrounded now, it’s just a matter of drowning it, but there’ll be units here until morning and beyond, probably,” said Deans. “There were embers flying around, but we had people on the roofs of the different buildings and nothing has extended, so we look to be in pretty good shape — if you can call this good shape,” he said pointimg to the ice-encrusted remains of the buildings.
“The upside is there certainly hasn’t been any fatalities, and I don’t believe even any injuries, so that’s a big plus,” added Deans. It’s unfortunate to lose some historic structures, that so much had been invested in . . . but it sure could have been worse.”
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