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Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:39

Corner store fire in Swift Current ruled accidental

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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What was left of the grocery store was torn down earlier this week. What was left of the grocery store was torn down earlier this week.

The cause of a fire that destroyed a neighbourhood landmark in Swift Current last week is considered to be accidental.

The fire at West End Grocery, located at the corner of 6th Avenue N.W. and Herbert Street West, started during the early morning hours of July 25.
Swift Current Deputy Fire Chief Pete L’Heureux said officials narrowed the origin of the fire down to the building’s northeast corner.
“We weren’t able to eliminate all of the possible causes,” he mentioned. “It probably stemmed from some electrical or mechanical issues in those areas.”
People in the area saw some sparking and arcing on a nearby power pole about an hour to an hour and a half before the fire, but L’Heureux said nobody reported any issues to Light and Power or to the Fire Department.
“Whether it was tied directly to the fire or was a result or a contributing factor to the fire we can’t say for sure,” he noted.
A number of people in the neighbourhood discovered the fire more or less at the same time when they smelled something strange. The Fire Department received the call at 23 minutes after midnight and they were on the scene four minutes later.
Their initial efforts were focused on saving the business and firefighters entered the building to attack the fire at close range. It soon became apparent the building was starting to fail structurally and it became too dangerous to have people inside.
“We went from an offensive fire to a defensive fire, so from internal attack on the fire to outside, at approximately two o’clock,” he said. “We used our aerial truck and went over top. Basically the roof has started to burn through, so we went through the hole that was there.”
During the night there were 23 firefighters and two firefighting trucks on scene to battle the fire. According to L’Heureux, there was not any real danger to other properties as there was a fairly good gap between the corner store and two adjacent homes.
“When we went to a defensive attack, we were able to contain it within the shell,” he said. “We were concerned that outside wall was going to fall down, but other than that section of wall that fell, the building and the wall structure stayed very much contained and intact to keep everything inside the building.”
By around 7:30 a.m. the firefighters had extinguished the fire with no more hot spots or burning taking place.
Laurie Lavoie and her family spent an anxious few hours outside their home, which is located next to the store.
She said they were evacuated from their home at about 12:45 a.m. The family of five and their two dogs watched from their front lawn as the firefighters battled the blaze during the next seven hours.
“There’s not much you can do, except wait and hope they get the flames,” she said.
She felt her house could have been in real danger if the store’s rear wall nearest to her property had collapsed, but it remained standing. She praised the firefighters for their efforts to contain and control the fire.
“They did everything to keep the wall from collapsing,” she said. “They did the best they could do.”
According to Lavoie,  the store has been there since the 1930s and it had at least four different owners.
“We all used it,” she said about the store’s importance to the community.
She worked for the previous store owners for six years and she said it was depressing to watch her former place of work going up in flames.
Current store owner Ross Heebner was out of town when his business burnt down. He has owned the store for a little over six years. He was saddened by the news of an early morning phone call.
“I was on my way home from B.C., so I was in Medicine Hat at my daughter’s place. ... That was not good news.”
Cobie Hyswick, who lives nearby, watched the fire for about two hours. To her, it appeared to be concentrated towards the back of the building.
“It kept getting bigger and bigger,” she said.
She also considered the destruction of the store to be a real loss to the community and to the neighborhood.
“It’s the only close store,” she said.
The burned remains of the building were demolished July 30. L’Heureux said it was a safety hazard and it had to be done as soon as their investigation was completed.
“Our concern was that the section of wall that started to come away from the building was going to fall and hit somebody,” he explained. “So, it needed to come down sooner than later for the protection of the public.”

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