A voracious Wednesday morning blaze gutted a century-old landmark that housed the local office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Officials were quick to say that nothing about the fire suggests it was an act of anti-government arson.
“We can’t even call this a suspicious fire,” said Lewiston Police Lt. Tom Lee.
The three-story Bollinger building, known more recently as Bollinger Plaza, housed seven businesses, including the high-end Jonathan’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, Global Travel and legal and accounting offices.
The one-man FBI office was to become a two-man operation with the arrival of a second agent this coming Monday.
Firefighters were called to the scene by a heat-sensing alarm system shortly before 5 a.m. They quickly realized they would be fighting a losing battle and fled the building for fear of its brick walls caving in.
“It appeared that it had been involved for quite some time,” said Rob Miesen, Lewiston Fire Department shift commander. “We went from offense to defense within minutes.”
Flames at times reached 50 feet above the building’s roof. Wind-blown debris was strewn a block away. Electrical power throughout the downtown corridor, including the police station, was knocked out for more than an hour.
The fire appeared to have started on the east side of the second floor, Miesen said. The FBI office was on the southwest side of the third floor.
There was no report of an explosion and no windows had been blown out when firefighters arrived, Miesen said.
Some 40 firefighters from six departments, including Moscow, spent two hours getting the flames under control. No one was injured.
By midmorning, the building was a smoldering brick shell. A damage estimate was not immediately available but the building alone, which was owned by three couples from Lewiston and Grangeville, was assessed at $891,990.
Lewiston police called in a team from the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to help determine the cause of the fire. FBI officials also were on hand to see what they might recover.
The fire comes three years after flames destroyed another downtown landmark, the Weisgerber Building. Police eventually determined several juveniles had lit that fire, but not before they were sent to prison as adults on other charges, Lt. Lee said.
The Bollinger, which sits at D and Third streets on the west end of downtown, was built in 1898 and had undergone numerous renovations.
At one time it was a hub of North Idaho travel, being home to the Bollinger Hotel and a stopping point for buses to Spokane and Boise.
“Lot of history out of this place,” said Steve Scaggs, who used to catch a bus from the building to visit his grandparents in Weippe. “Everybody’s got a story.”
The building is slated to be knocked down as early as Friday.
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