Fire-ravaged building demolished as crews continue cleanup

The building that housed Janitor's Express was demolished Sunday as fire crews continued to monitor a blaze that began Friday evening and burned on and off throughout the weekend.

The building that housed Janitor's Express was demolished Sunday as fire crews continued to monitor a blaze that began Friday evening and burned on and off throughout the weekend.

The historic uptown building -- known as the Gale Building -- was razed Sunday morning. Sunday evening, fire still burned from within the remains and fire fighters continued to oversee the site, which was still blocked off from traffic.

Main Street in the area of the fire could be open to traffic sometime today.

Several flare-ups of the fire kept emergency personnel at work around the clock over the weekend. Assistant Fire Chief Steve Willis said Sunday that a cause has not yet been determined. All that is certain, he said, is that the fire started in the back -- or westernmost section -- of the building.

"We have no idea what the cause was yet, and we may never find out. It just takes time and we'll keep continuing to work on it, but right now it's undetermined," said Willis.


Janitor's Express Operations Manager James Deanovich, of Farmer, said he and his employees are figuring out a game plan.

"It's not going to happen right away. We are going to regroup and do everything we can to keep our accounts active," he said while commending fire crews for their efforts.

"We're probably going to put supplies in my garage and try to keep serving our customers," he said. "Everything in the building is a total loss."

Nearby businesses also were damaged.

Next door, the Merchandise Outlet Store received heavy smoke and water damage, as crews battled the blaze on the other side of the wall. Manager Kim Cross called it "probably a 90-100 percent loss."

"It's bad," said Cross, who has been working at the family business since 1971. "It's pretty hard to take."

Two doors down, Dr. Lucky's co-owner Justin Morrison said there was nearly two feet of water in the bar's basement and water also came through onto the main floor, through light fixtures. The extent of the damage is not yet known.

"We've got smoke and water damage and we really won't know the extent of it until it dries out. We kept heat on the building so it never froze. That was a good thing," said Morrison, who thanked the fire crews for saving the building.


"I don't think it's out of the question that we could be open (this) weekend," Morrison said. "Once we talk to the insurance adjustor on Monday, we'll know more."

Upstairs from Dr. Lucky's, Tim and Lisa Konrad's apartment also received smoke and water damage. They were not home at the time of the fire.

Next door to Dr. Lucky's, Geyerman's Clothing Co. received smoke damage. Co-owners Patty Forseth and Tammy Vandyke, of Pipestone, Minn., drove to Mitchell early Saturday morning to survey the damage. The two decided to put a lighthearted spin on the situation and posted signs proclaiming "Fire Sale" and "Smokin' Hot Deals." The sale will begin Tuesday.

"Hopefully, the smoke smell won't be significant," said Forseth, "It's a sad sight to see, especially this time of year. If we can break even, I'll be pleased with that. I think we will because the Mitchell community has been very supportive -- we'll all get through it together."

Forseth, like many others, said it could have been worse.

"It could have been devastating," she said. "We are lucky that it was the only damage we had."

Three firefighters were treated for injuries Friday -- one with a twisted ankle, another with a knee injury, and one for exhaustion.

According to Mitchell Fire Capt. Paul Morris, crews put out the fire's most significant flames at around 2:45 Saturday morning. It flared up again around 5:30 a.m., and again at 1 p.m.


Flames were again shooting out from the basement at 4 p.m. Saturday. Emergency personnel kept an eye on the building Saturday morning -- many with very little sleep.

"Everything has collapsed into the main floor and basement, and so you're always going to have hot embers in there. Because of the danger of going into the building like this, there's nowhere to go -- we can't get every little spot. The cold temperatures and the ice makes everything 10 times harder," said Morris.

Morris said flare-ups in a fire such as this are typical and Willis said the long process of completely extinguishing the fire is normal.

"The big thing is that it's creating a lot of smoke, and some of the businesses on Main Street are getting that damage and we want to get this thing taken care of," said Willis.

The cause for the large amount of smoke probably is two or three pickup loads of coal in storage in the basement, Willis said.

"We are thrilled about the way it went -- not that there was a fire, but that we kept it from going into the next building," said Willis. "The guys worked hard, our surrounding mutual aid departments worked hard and we stopped it and that was our main goal. It's better than what the alternative is. We could have been 300 feet down the block doing this same thing. That would have been devastating."

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