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It’s a grim reality, the horrific damage that can be caused by a fire. Small flames can turn into a monstrous inferno consuming all in its path within minutes.
That’s what happened around 2 a.m. Tuesday morning in Eureka. Local firefighters thought they were headed to a dumpster fire on the west side of Fourth Street but were surprised with a well-involved structure fire spreading into the next building instead.
It took some mega manpower to control the situation but Humboldt Bay Fire eventually conquered the blaze at “what was” a row of businesses. Fire Chief Bill Gillespie says, with help from other local fire departments, three aerial ladder trucks and multiple fire engines had to douse the building with water for three hours before the flames were extinguished.
“And in the midst of all this we had power lines down and arching in the alley behind the businesses and a gas meter on fire that was burning through as well,” he said. “So there was a lot going on.”
It was full-blown chaos, but unfortunately that was just the beginning — fires impact lives and cripple communities. Luckily, no one was hurt, but four business are now nothing more than broken glass and charred wood, and two others have smoke and water damage.
In this LoCO Video Report we look around the aftermath and talk to some of those involved.
Dennis Knapek has operated his auto electric business from the location for more than 30 years. Now his business lay in ruins behind a scorched garage door.
“My Snap-on box in there was loaded with my Snap-on tools, probably around $30,000, hard to say. But a scanner, $3,500. It’s gone,” he says. “And when you heat cycle an end wrench or a socket, it’s no longer a socket, it’s a hood ornament.”
Sports World was also in the building but just moved to its new location last week. Lost Coast Flooring was on the end and still partially standing, but after looking inside, most of its inventory was gone. We’re also told an automotive repair shop known as Sounds of Silence operated in the back portion of the building, where now all you can see is a vintage Trans Am covered with fallen debris.
The fire also knocked out power to surrounding buildings. And although it was expected to be restored in a day, it left St. Vincent de Paul scrambling to relocate tons of packaged meat since it’s freezer was off. Volunteers said fortunately they had a few places to move the food.
The owners of Dick Taylor Chocolate, which sits on the corner of the row of businesses, were quickly on scene after receiving a phone call from the alarm company stating that a flow sensor was going off in their business’ sprinkler system.
“So we came down and I turned the corner on 101 and all I saw were fire trucks and an orange blaze,” said co-owner Adam Dick. “We could see at least our building wasn’t on fire, but you never know if the sprinklers tripped and we’re having damage inside. So it was pretty tense for about three hours until we could finally get in the building for a few minutes to look around.”
Rita’s Mexican Salsa is is right next door and had a close call. Sales Director Jared Livella says its cinder block wall is what prevented the flames from spreading.
But the area on Fourth and A has also been a hot spot for controversy. Last fall it was approved for cannabis extraction labs, then a new landlord bought that section of buildings for some crazy amount, the decades long tenants received eviction notices and 60 days to relocate, and now this fire just days before the tenants June 30 move out date.
“Shock initially, anger started to follow that a little bit,” said Knapek. “I do put some of this on our City Council for approving this extraction zone between A and Broadway. It put all the extraction businesses in the area, so that drove property value through the roof.”
Then in March the Eureka Police Department served a search warrant to the company Lost Coast Research, which was permitted to conduct cannabis testing at the Fourth Street building. However they were found with a grow room and cannabis extraction which could cause a fire — though business owners said they were only storing the equipment, and we’re told that business moved out.
Local insurance agent Gary Harner came down to scope out the damage after his client notified him of the fire. He’s says the amount of burning buildings in the area is alarming.
“I can tell you that in the time that I’ve written insurance, which has been 33 years, I’ve never had fire claims until I moved up here and started transacting insurance and now this is my eighth one,” he says. “And it seems to happen with some level of frequency around here and it’s really concerning.”
For the rest of the day cleanup was underway and investigators were collecting evidence. There’s still no word on the cause of the fire.
Video footage of the fire in action is from Humboldt Bay Fire Battalion Chief Chris Emmons and the later portion was taken by Dick Taylor Chocolate.