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Fire destroys 107-year-old building

No injuries reported after early morning blaze in Westlock on Nov. 14

WESTLOCK – One of the oldest buildings in Westlock burned to the ground last week and now one local business owner is waiting to see what his options are and what he’ll do next.

Westlock firefighters were called to the scene of the blaze at 9919 107 St., coincidently directly across the alley from the fire hall, at approximately 6:43 a.m. Nov. 14, and remained on scene most of the day, closing off the portion of 107 St. from 99 Ave. to 100 Ave. and the adjacent alleyways, until just after 4 p.m.

No injuries were reported.

“Upon arrival to the station, it was noted that there were flames showing in the building and it was re-dispatched as an active structure fire within minutes after that. Two Westlock fire units arrived on the scene within minutes and started initial fire suppression techniques and requested a unit from Westlock County,” said fire chief Stuart Koflick.

Twenty-two emergency personnel arrived on scene including RCMP, EMS, municipal enforcement and firefighters, but the building was untenable by that point and firefighters deployed a “defensive exterior operation.”

“We confined the fire to the structure itself and have protected the building to the east, however it has sustained some exterior damage and some water damage,” he said.

The fire department also deployed the use of an aerial drone, which gave them an opportunity to observe the scene from above in real time, which was a real help, said Koflick, it also aids in documenting the scene from a fire investigation standpoint.

Koflick didn’t want to speculate on the cause this early in the investigation, but said it could have been caused by any number of things.

A track hoe arrived at the scene around 11:30 a.m. to help move around debris, which would reveal more hotspots that could be taken care of by firefighters.

The tin roof of the building, most of which caved in on itself, kept the building super-heated and had to removed by the hoe not only to let the air in the let the fire burn out, but so firefighters could apply water as well.

“First of all, we have to give consideration to the age and the structural integrity of the building, there’s sawdust insulation, which obviously adds to the fire load, the contents in the building add to the fire load,” said Kofflick.

“Some of the older buildings are also made with heavier timbers, so the roof rafters tend to hold up a lot better. There’s a lot of things to consider with a building this old.”

In 1912, a farm equipment dealership called International Harvester opened for business at that location and changed owners several times over the next 50 years, when it was sold and renamed Westlock Truck and Implements in 1965, which stayed in business until 1984.

Westlock Home Furnishings owner Brock Chemerinski has been using the building as overflow storage for the store’s merchandise — furniture, appliances and mattresses — for many years now.

Chemerinski didn’t have a lot of details to share the next day.

“I don’t really know that there’s a lot to say. It burned down,” he said, adding he hasn’t even had a chance to meet with an insurance adjuster as of yet.

“I don’t have a number yet, but it will be enough to worry about,” he said.

Chemerinski said he’s still taking stock of what was destroyed in the fire, which was obviously a total write-off, as all that remains is a charred pile of rubble from the 107-year-old building, along with the outlines of blackened appliances.

“I won’t know much until I move forward with the adjuster — if I rebuild, or if I don’t, or if I rent. I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Story by Chris Zwick, Westlock News

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