Friday, July 19, 2024

Army Surplus destroyed in fire

Staff Writer | July 6, 2024 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A longtime Sandpoint business was destroyed in a fire July 4, despite efforts by a multitude of firefighters who responded to the scene. 

The fire at the Army Surplus store was reported at about 10:15 p.m. Thursday, shortly after the fireworks show ended, with heavy smoke pouring from the gabled southern end of the building.

It wasn't long afterward that Sandpoint Fire Chief Gavin Gilcrease said flames were seen coming from the roof. 

"Once it went through the roof, it was clear we weren't going to be going inside," the fire chief said, noting the building's different uses and compartmentalization over the years, which added to the challenges faced by crews in fighting the fire.

The oldest section of the 16,000-square-foot building dates back to 1915, while the back western section was built in 1945, and the section fronting Fifth Avenue was built in 1955.

That forced firefighters to surround the building, which sits across Fifth Avenue from Umpqua Bank to the east and across a public parking lot from Matchwood Brewing, the Sandpoint Rock Gym and Evans Brothers Coffee to the west. Located to the north is the Foster's Crossing Antiques structure.

Crews worked through the night to bring the fire under control with creosote-treated timbers, commonly used in the 19th century and the early 20th century, to preserve and prolong the life of timber supports, proving a challenge to extinguish.

Army Surplus owner Cornel Rasor declined to comment, saying he was still trying to process what had happened and determine what steps he needed to take. He thanked the community for reaching out with messages of support and encouragement.

"It's just wonderful how the community has reached out," Rasor said. "I'm really grateful. We're just trying to figure out what we're going to do now."

The fire, which continued to smolder Friday morning with occasional eruptions of flame from multiple hotspots, likely started in the oldest part of the building on the south side closest to the Pie Hut and Community Assistance League's Bizarre Bazaar. While there is some degree of smoke damage and the two businesses lost power during the fire, the fire did not spread beyond the Army Surplus building, Sandpoint officials said.

Sandpoint police and fire crews responded shortly after the fire was reported, but smoke was already pouring from the building.

"By the time we got here, which didn't take very long, it wasn't fully engulfed, but it was well on its way to burning," Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon said. 

Gilcrease and Coon asked the public to report any information, photos, or videos that might show anything as they begin an investigation into the fire's cause. The Idaho State Fire Marshal is expected to be in the community Monday to assist with the investigation.

While social media chatter pointed a finger toward possibly errant fireworks as the cause of the Thursday fire, both Gilcrease and Coon said it is too early to speculate on the cause until the investigation is complete.

The fire is the first major fire since Sandpoint Fire pulled out of the Selkirk Fire Association and the first since a February 2019 blaze gutted two buildings on First Avenue and heavily damaged a third. Five businesses were housed in the buildings gutted by the fire, with a church occupying the heavily damaged third building.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading beyond the two structures to the rest of the historic downtown, battling the blaze, snow, 11-degree temperatures, and spray from aerial hose lines. Damage from the 2019 fire was estimated at roughly $4 million, and the blaze forced several businesses to close and others to relocate, some many months or longer after they were displaced. The cause of the 2019 fire was later determined to be accidental.

Sandpoint Mayor Jeremy Grimm said the city's thoughts are with Rasor and his family.

"Beyond the loss of personal and business property, the resulting void left in our downtown will not be easily replaced," he said.

Grimm also thanked the city's fire and police departments for their response to the devastating fire.

"I cannot express enough my gratitude to the hard-working men and women of the Sandpoint fire and police departments, who protect and serve our community around the clock," he added. "On behalf of the city of Sandpoint, we thank all who responded to our need overnight. Finally, thank you to our residents and visitors who respected and followed directions, allowing our professionals to do their job during an intense situation.”

There were no firefighter injuries, and the store's staff was off for the holiday.

Sandpoint Fire was assisted at the scene by crews from the Northside, Selkirk Fire, Schweitzer, and Sam Owen Fire Districts. In addition to the fire engines from the multiple departments, Schweitzer crews also responded with the district's aerial truck to assist in fighting the fire.

    Army Surplus owner Cornel Rasor, left, is escorted to the front of what remains of his business by a Sandpoint firefighter Friday after the building was destroyed in a July 4 fire.
    A Sandpoint firefighter aims water at a spurt of flame on Friday as crews worked to completely extinguish a fire that destroyed the Army Surplus building in downtown Sandpoint late Thursday night.
    Area firefighters aim water at the Army Surplus building after the fire was engulfed in flame late July 4.
    A Sandpoint Fire firefighter sits atop a fire engine Friday as he aims a stream of water at the still-smoldering fire at the Army Surplus building in downtown Sandpoint. The fire was reported at about 10:15 p.m. on July 4.

    Fire crews work to get to hot spots at the Army Surplus building after the business was gutted in a July 4 fire.
    The faint outline of Army Surplus can just be seen on what remains of the building Friday morning after the business was destroyed in a July 4 fire. The cause of the fire is unknown and an investigation is underway.