The Feb. 11 fire that destroyed five Sandpoint businesses and affected two others, totaling more than $4 million in damages, was ruled an accident Friday by the Idaho State Fire Marshal.
The fire began at about 1 a.m. Feb. 11 between Bridge and Main streets, destroying The Hound Bar and Grill, China Kitchen, the Chocolate Bear candy shop, the Headlines salon and Sandpoint Tattoo.
Fire investigators dressed in hazmat suits worked Thursday and Friday to determine the final cause. First Avenue between Pine and Church was closed as a result.
A demolition contractor using an excavator to open up walls and supports assisted investigators as they sifted through the rubble at 202 First Ave., according to a news release from the city of Sandpoint on Friday.
Deputy Fire Marshal Jason Blubaum reported the fire has been ruled accidental, with the cause undetermined.
According to the release, investigators believe the fire started in the basement between the lower-level ceiling and first floor, with the “point of origin believed to be at the wall between the Chocolate Bear and the former Ol Red’s Pub.”
“As we cleared the debris in the basement of 202, the point of origin became clear when we found the glass door to Ol Red’s intact. That became a real game changer,” Blubaum said.
Heavy equipment will continue hauling away debris from the site through Monday, according to the release.
Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad said the city will continue to work as quickly as possible to return downtown to normal, with plans to push fencing back on Monday to open up drive lanes, although sidewalks along Bridge and First will remain closed.
A $7,500 grant awarded by the BNSF Foundation will assist with a beautification project to install vinyl panel wraps with historical photos of the area, according to the release.
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