UPDATE: Blaze In Dubois Destroys Eight Businesses; Economic Impact Could Be Large
A fire that apparently started in a store on Dubois' main street Tuesday evening burned half a city block and destroyed eight businesses.
"Out of those eight businesses, six of those businesses are totally inhabitable; they're just done,"Fire Chief Mike Franchini said Wednesday.
"One of those buildings has heavy smoke, water damage," Franchini said. "And there's a building to the east that received light smoke and water damage."
He oversaw the ordeal that began about 8:15 p.m. at the Main Street Mart -- formerly the historic Dubois Mercantile -- on the north side of Ramshorn Street, which is the local name for U.S. Highway 26-287.
Fire crews tried to attack the blaze from inside the building, which was one of the oldest in the town, he said. The historic Merc had a wood frame probably with logs, and had a large, open interior.
But the heat forced them into the street with its minus-20 temperatures that caused havoc with their work, Franchini said.
The buildings had fire walls between them, but that didn't stop the blaze from spreading, he said.
He called for help from fire departments in Fremont County, Lander, Riverton and smaller towns.
The intense cold sometimes crews' froze pumps, valves, nozzles and other equipment.
At one point, the crews had to scale back the volume of water they had to use because the town had only an hour of water remaining in its reserves, he said.
No residents or firefighters were injured or killed, but some firefighters slipped on the ice, which was almost two feet thick, Franchini said.
Assistance came from nearby, too.
"This town's a very tight-knit community," Franchini said.
"I'll betcha at one time we had almost the whole town out in the street," he said. "We had townspeople coming to us out of their houses bringing us coffee, bringing us food, asking if they can help."
A restaurant across the street from the fire stayed open all night so the firefighters could come in to warm up with a cup of coffee and thaw out as well, Franchini said.
The fire was contained by 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, but crews were still on the scene Wednesday afternoon to watch for hot spots, Franchini said.
Two fire investigators from the state are working with local officials to determine the origin and cause of the blaze, he said.
Likewise, the building manager and business owners are assessing the damages.
The fire's impact may be felt for a long time, Franchini said.
Dubois, nestled in the Shoshone National Forest is a scenic town popular with travelers and tourists traveling between Riverton and Jackson Hole. Founded in 1888, its old buildings offered tourists and locals alike a traditional western flavor.
The destroyed businesses are among many that serve those tourists. Franchini estimated their losses probably put 20 people out of work.
"Economically, it's going to be a pretty big hit for the Dubois area," he said.