Most of the building belonging to a Fort Dodge electrical business was severely damaged early Friday morning by a fire that needed multiple agencies to be extinguished.
The fire at Bemrich Electric & Telephone Inc., 110 S. 21st St., was reported to Fort Dodge firefighters around 2:45 a.m.
Parts of the building's south and east walls were torn down with a backhoe Friday evening because they appeared to be dangerously unstable.
-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Three Fort Dodge firefighters, including Capt. Mitch Sells, center, look over Bemrich Electric after a fire destroyed much of the building early Friday morning.
The cause of the blaze remained under investigation Friday evening.
Capt. Steve Hergenreter, of the Fort Dodge Fire Department, said the fire was strong.
"We had our shift on duty and called several Fort Dodge firefighters back to work," Hergenreter said. "The Webster City Fire Department also responded on mutual aid with one engine and six firefighters."
He said firefighters started to work on the inside of the building, but were forced out due to structural problems.
"We did an interior attack for the first 20 minutes but then the roof collapsed and we had to pull our firefighters out and change to a defensive attack," Hergenreter said.
While firefighters were able to get the blaze under control at 4:45 a.m. and stopped the fire from spreading to one part of the building, Hergenreter said about two thirds of the building is considered a total loss.
"It was a major fire for Fort Dodge," he said. "It's probably the largest fire we've had in three years as far as a commercial building."
A damage estimate was unavailable, but Hergenreter said most of what was inside the business was destroyed.
"It was a significant loss to the building and the contents of the building," he said. "Inventory, equipment in all the buildings, and I'm guessing there will be a loss of business as well."
For Fire Chief Kent Hulett, who was appointed June 10, it was his first chance to see his new team in action at a major fire.
He said he was impressed by what he witnessed.
"We had very good cooperation between our organization and other agencies," Hulett said. "The Police Department was there and civilians were there offering assistance as well. I was really impressed by the inter-agency cooperation."
"Obviously it's a devastating loss," he added. "The business owner and 35 employees were effected. Hopefully the insurance covers that and he gets back in business fairly quickly."
Bemrich Electric & Telephone Inc. has been at that location since 1984.
''We plan to rebuild on the same spot,'' said Mayor Matt Bemrich, who is an electrician for the business that bears his family name.
The company has already set up a temporary office in a vacant building near Central Avenue and 21st Street.
Bemrich said security guards will be posted at the fire-damaged building 24 hours a day.
He added that most of the company's employees worked Friday.
''We plan on having all employees working Monday,'' he said.
Bemrich said he was called about the fire at about 2:55 a.m. Friday. He went to the shop, expecting to see a small fire. Instead, he saw flames roaring through the roof.
He said it was ''humbling'' to see the firefighters and police officers working to try to save the family business.
''All the Bemrichs are very appreciative of their efforts,'' he said.
Hulett said the incident was apparently first reported as a vehicle fire.
He said after they had to evacuate the building, firefighters concentrated on trying to save an addition on its west side.
''That became our tactical priority,'' he said. ''It became a case of let's save what we can.''
Veterans Bridge on First Avenue South, which is near the building, was closed during the blaze.