Fire destroys historic building in Waterville
- Associated Press
- July 3, 2014 - 8:45 PM
WATERVILLE, Minn. — Officials demolished a historic building in downtown Waterville on Thursday after a fire sent flames tearing through it and thick black smoke billowing into the air.
Fire Chief Chris Meskan said his department got a call about a fire at the Rogers building at 6:15 a.m. Thursday. He was the first person on the scene and said he arrived to find it engulfed in smoke and flames.
It was built by the city's founder, L.Z. Rogers, in 1891 after a store he built in 1857 burned. The building housed four apartments and two businesses, a thrift shop and a hair salon. Eleven adults and four children were displaced. Mayor Steve Mihalik said the Red Cross was assisting them.
Meskan said no one was hurt.
"It's a good thing everyone got out, but this is all I have left," said Austin Brown said as he stood barefoot and shirtless on the sidewalk, wearing the only two possessions he could save, his underwear and a pair of gray sweatpants.
The fire chief said he believed the fire started outside in the back, but the cause was not immediately known.
The fire came as Waterville residents were already dealing with significant flood damage. High water and sandbags are still evident across the community.
Meskan said firefighters and others were already weary from the weeks of flood work.
"At this point, it's another significant community issue that we have to deal with," Mihalik told The Associated Press.
After the fire was under control, officials brought in excavators to push the building away from the road, and firefighters urged the public to stay back.
Brown's girlfriend, Carissa Schrot, who lived in one of the four apartments with him, her 3-year-old daughter and mother-in-law, said she was woken up by the fire.
"My mother-in-law was banging on my bedroom door at 6:15 a.m. after smelling smoke in an upstairs bedroom," Schrot said. She grabbed her daughter, and Brown ripped the door off the apartment so they could get out.
"The fire alarms didn't go off until I got the doors open and the smoke started flowing through," Brown said.
Miranda Carlson, 16, saved her dog and the ashes of her late grandfather. All else was lost.
"I do not really know what we are going to do," Carlson said. "We are going to have to kind of start all over."
Crews from eight communities were called in to help put out the fire.
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