A spectacular building fire in the centre of downtown Nanaimo directly affected 15 businesses and created headaches for many more.
Onlookers gathered outside barrier tape enclosing the Jean Burns building on Commercial Street at Terminal Avenue Thursday as mop-up operations continued following an all-night battle against a blaze that gutted the wood-frame structure where Acme Food Co. operated for more than a decade before recently going out of business. Other companies affected include clothing stores, offices, an adult novelty shop and a high-tech label design studio.
“I’ve got to start rebuilding,” said Cindy Cameron, owner of Luscious Me, a women’s wear retailer she opened beside China Steps in March, 2015.
Nanaimo Fire Rescue got the call at 6:37 p.m. and were on the scene in less than four minutes. Cameron and others were ordered out, for safety.
Hired Guns, upstairs, a custom liquor label designer was also affected, but the owners back up their data to a cloud storage system, and are still looking into how much, if any data was lost.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” said Leif Miltenberger, a partner in the company. “We’re working to get it back up and running as fast as possible. New hardware, restore data and find space – those are our immediate priorities.”
Coast Cobbler shoe repairs, an art dealer and Whispers Superstore, remained behind the barrier Thursday, and all will likely have to relocate.
Power outages caused headaches for many nearby businesses not directly threatened by the fire.
“We couldn’t finish our day, everything was shut off,” said Michelle Guillemaud, manager of Iris Optical. Power to the business, located in the ground floor of the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, went out shortly after 5 p.m., forcing the business to close, Guillemaud said.
At the conference centre, staff were preparing for an evening dinner reception. A backup generator kicked in, but it’s only enough power to keep refrigeration and some lights running. Cooks waited for full power to come back. The freight elevator stopped, preventing staff to load in gear for a trade show the next day.
“That means everything stops,” said Denise Tacon, conference centre general manager. After power was restored about an hour later, food service staff had to make up lost time and adjust serving schedules accordingly.
Firefighters, supported by other agencies, battled the fire through the night, going into “defensive mode” at 8:30 p.m. due to the size of the blaze to a building built in 1955.
“Fires in buildings of this era and construction type are very challenging,” said Fire Chief Craig Richardson. “It’s not unusual in a situation like this for the fire to consume multiple buildings.”
By 10:30 p.m. firefighters were confident neighbouring structures would be spared, and by 5:45 the blaze was under control.
Traffic through downtown was re-routed until mid-afternoon.
On Thursday morning the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association was flooded with calls from people wanting to help affected merchants.
“The DNBIA is just waiting to know what their needs are and then build a strategy to centralize that help,”said Corry Hostetter, executive director of the organization. An announcement will be made when more is known.
Power outages meant spoilage of “about $300 worth of food” For Thirsty Camel Cafe owner Ilan Goldenblatt, but he said he got off lucky compared to those direct affected.
“My biggest concern is how long is that empty (building) going to stand? That building is gutted,” Goldenblatt said.
Mayor Bill McKay expressed similar concerns.
“That’s one of our most focal corners in all of Nanaimo,” McKay said. “I hope that building comes down, or is re-mediated.”
Firefighters started an investigation into the cause Thursday. Asked if the fire is considered suspicious, chief Richardson said: “We have no indication of that at this time.”
Cameron has insurance, and says her immediate goal is to find a new location. In the meantime, she will have no cash-flow until her shop re-opens.
“That’s where friends and family come in,” Cameron said.