January 14, 2008 in City

Residents escape as fire razes CdA buildings

By and The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Firefighters spray water on the blaze at 12th Street and Sherman Avenue on Sunday in Coeur d’Alene. Dozens of people watched the battle as sparks flew into the sky.
(Full-size photo)

A three-alarm fire destroyed at least three Sherman Avenue storefronts and several apartments Sunday and a former Chinese restaurant was severely damaged as firefighters worked into the night to keep the fire from spreading.

The fire at the nearly 100-year-old building on the 1200 block of East Sherman was one of the biggest fires in Coeur d’Alene in recent history, according to Coeur d’Alene Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Lauper. Crews were expected to be at the scene all night Sunday and into this morning.

A bartender from the Twelve Ten tavern – once known as the Fourth Alarm – called 911 just before 5:30 p.m. Sunday to report smoke coming into the building from Gamer’s Haven next door. The first firefighters were on the scene within four minutes, and crews from five departments responded to help.

Jerry Quass, the tavern’s owner, said his bar was evacuated after patrons noticed smoke moving across the ceiling.

“Someone said, ‘Fire,’ and the bartender called 911,” said Gwendolyn, a bar patron who did not want to give her last name. “I had a full glass of wine that I had to leave. I was able to grab ‘Emma,’ my pool cue.”

Lauper said crews used so much water in an attempt to douse the flames that they nearly ran out. The city’s water department turned on the pumps at all the city’s wells to keep the water coming.

Several witnesses said the fire appeared to have started in apartments behind or above Gamer’s Haven. Three residents in the apartments escaped unharmed, Lauper said.

Dozens of people gathered to watch more than 40 firefighters trying to get the fire under control as sparks shot into the air. Sherman Avenue was still closed between 12th and 14th streets late Sunday.

Gamer’s Haven, the Twelve Ten tavern and a vacant barbershop were destroyed, Lauper said. The adjacent China Gate restaurant, which was also vacant, was badly damaged, and crews were working to keep it from being destroyed.

Echen Chane brought the key for the restaurant in case firefighters needed it. His cousin owns the restaurant along with the barbershop space and the tavern area. His cousin had recently sold the building, he said, and the sale was set to close this month.

Gamer’s Haven owner Russ Pickup, 24, said he purchased the business, which was in leased space, six months ago.

Pickup said he left work a little after 5 p.m. He got a call shortly after that saying the business was burning.

“I have 10 years worth of my hobby in that store,” Pickup said, referring to painted models used in the game Warhammer, which he described as “chess on steroids.”

Though the business was insured, Pickup said much of the belongings inside were irreplaceable.

“This is better than the Fourth of July, and it really sucks,” gamer Ben Tranfo said as he watched the blaze. “It was a cool place where everyone went and hung out.”

Three men who lived in apartments above Gamer’s Haven said bar patrons knocked on their doors and told them they should get out.

“About a minute later smoke started coming out of the floorboards,” tenant David Jackson said. “It was pretty intense. I just had time to grab my coat. What’s on my back is all I got.”

Jackson said he lost everything he owned, including $1,600 cash that was in his apartment. None of the men has renter’s insurance.

“We got out without losing our lives,” neighbor Matt Thurley said. “We got a lot to be grateful for. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.”

Thurley grabbed a backpack on his way out, but the writer said he lost manuscripts for short stories he had written, along with photographs and other memorabilia.

Apartment residents were referred to the American Red Cross for assistance, and the rental management company was putting tenants up in motel rooms for the night.

Marcy Romans, her sons and her boyfriend stood in the front yard of her home watching flames leaping through the building around 7:45 p.m. White paint melted from the siding.

“We were sitting down to Sunday dinner when one of my son’s friends came running over,” said Romans, who lives across 12th Street from the apartments.

Myra Parsell lives across the alley and several houses down from the burning building. She was grateful for the metal roof on her house and garage Sunday night. The blaze shot sparks into the sky.

“They’re having so much trouble because it’s such an old building,” Parsell said.

Parsell, a Coeur d’Alene native, remembered when Redmon’s Grocery occupied the building during the 1940s. The Twelve Ten tavern was once a meat storage locker, she said.

Electricity was shut off to Parsell’s home and others in surrounding blocks while firefighters worked to get the blaze under control.

“It’s like an end of the era with the Twelve Ten and the China Gate gone,” Romans said. “It’s hard for locals. There’s so much change going on. When one of our spots goes down, it doesn’t come back.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email