Small business owner Geraldine “Geri” Manz could only watch from a parking lot as firefighters moved carefully through the gray building in front of her, spraying water and stomping out heat.
For 27 years, she has owned the Flea Market store — a small single-story market at 9400 E. Sprague Ave. — eclipsed by a large billboard overhead greeting motorists on one of Spokane Valley’s busiest throughways.
It was a shop filled to the brim with bright memories. Now they were black. And hot.
“I just love this place,” she said, her hands clasped together. “But I’ll be OK.”
The trouble began early Friday morning, when at about 10 a.m. residents below in a pair of two-bedroom apartments heard banging coming from the store above. Odd, really, since the store wasn’t yet open, and nobody was inside.
Then came the smell — the faint aroma of burnt dust that follows a neglected baseboard heater. Then, the more pungent scent of smoke. Finally, the fire alarm and shouting.
“I just grabbed my purse and my phone,” said Amanda Ransford, who made it out with her two children, ages 7 and 12, wearing only a bathrobe over her clothes for warmth. “I was glad and lucky to grab that.”
Her neighbor, who declined to share her name, was able to make it out as well, but had to leave behind her five dogs and a cat. Firefighters later told her all the animals survived.
Jeff Bordwell, the battalion chief of Station 1 at the Spokane Valley Fire Department, said the fire began in the store’s attic, though fire marshals were still unsure how or why. It spread somewhat, staying mostly in a crawl space above the shop, spewing smoke and heat throughout the building.
The flames were quickly put out, said Bordwell. “We got notified relatively early. There was definitely some fire in the attic.”
The American Red Cross was on scene before noon, ready to offer shelter to Ransford and her neighbor. Firefighters, said Ransford, wouldn’t let them back inside for the rest of the day.
“We don’t really have anywhere else to stay,” she said. “But we’ll be alright.”
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