Day After Fire More Hopeful For Cheyenne Downtown

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- A fire in a historic downtown area did not cause as much destruction as initially thought as firefighters searched for a cause and engineers surveyed what could be salvaged.

The building that housed the Wyoming Home retail store and a bakery was gutted by the fire Monday night and Tuesday although its facade remained standing and structurally sound for now, according to city engineer Ken Lewis. Neighboring buildings, including the one where infamous stock detective Tom Horn gave his so-called murder confession that led to his hanging in 1903, are safe and sound, officials said.

``We got better news about the structures,'' Downtown Development Authority Director Christian Cherek said, referring to positive reports about the status of some of the three buildings damaged in the fire. ``And we heard there was no smoke damage at The Wrangler.''

In general, people had been expecting the worst, Cherek said, and that was not the case.

On Wednesday, a main downtown thoroughfare was fully reopened to traffic, nearby businesses reopened, and residents evacuated from nearby hotels were allowed to return.

Customers found their way through roadblocks and walked into The Wrangler across the state.

``They were happy to see some action downtown,'' said Jim Lawrence, vice president and director of sales for Corral West Ranchwear.

``We're pleased the street is open,'' said Beverly Salverson, owner of The Quilted Corner across the street from the fire.

Cheyenne Fire and Rescue Chief Scott Alvord said the fire likely began in the bakery sometime Monday night, perhaps in the basement. However, the official cause may not be known for about a week, he said.

Part of the difficulty of fighting the fire was that the buildings were old, dating back to the late 1800s.

``It wasn't a fast-burning fire,'' Alvord said. ``It was a difficult fire because of all those small rooms, and it moved horizontally, not vertically.''

Some downtown business and building owners like Salverson are considering whether they have enough insurance or whether they need to make any changes in the wake of the fire.

``It would be devastating to me if it were my store,'' she said.

Even as the downtown business community mourns the losses, officials are starting to examine what sort of help might be available.

Mayor Jack Spiker said Gov. Dave Freudenthal has offered the state's assistance.

Spiker said he also has been in contact with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has some money that might be available to help out.

Some Community Development Block Grant funding _ also a U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development program _ may be available, as well as grants from the Wyoming Business Council and the Downtown Development Authority, Spiker said.

``At 10 o'clock Tuesday, things were looking pretty gloomy, but today, it's much more optimistic,'' Spiker said Wednesday.