Cause of fire eludes investigators

CBI visits scene,
collects samples

Carpet was ripped up at the The White Cup Coffeehouse on Thursday. The firefighters sprayed the east wall, saving the building but damaging the carpet and ceiling. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/The Cortez Journal

Carpet was ripped up at the The White Cup Coffeehouse on Thursday. The firefighters sprayed the east wall, saving the building but damaging the carpet and ceiling.

Police investigators remain unsure what caused an early morning fire on Main Street that destroyed three businesses on Sunday.

“It’s inconclusive,” said Cortez Police Department Det. Lt. Jim Kingery.

Officials from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations were on scene for two days this week to help offer their expertise, but Kingery said the official cause and origin of the blaze remains under investigation. CBI officials also collected samples for laboratory analysis.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Kingery.

Business owners reportedly told investigators of a possible gas leak, but Kingery emphasized that it’s too early to know the exact cause and origin of the fire.

“We’re not ruling out anything,” he added.

Kingery did say preliminary findings suggest the fire originated in a rear storeroom of Stewart’s Floor Covering, one of the businesses destroyed by the blaze. Cortez Works and Family Shoes and More were also gutted in the fire.

Kingery was unable to provide a timeline on when a final report would be available. He said the investigation would continue for a “few weeks.”

The owner of the building, Bill Armstrong said he was waiting to speak with his insurance company and for the cause of the fire to be determined before deciding to rebuild.

The building dated back to the 1920’s and had been home to the Palace Barber Shop until the 1990s, he said. Armstrong’s family had owned the building since the 1950s.

If he rebuilds, Armstrong said he would like it to be a slightly bigger structure.

He also said he had “lots of hope for the future of Main Street Cortez. It’s what gives a small town its character.”

Annette Stewart, an owner of Stewart’s Floor Covering Center, said she was sad to lose her shop after nine years on Main Street, but she planned to reopen another show room as soon as possible.

Stewart said her inventory was stored off-site and she is still doing business.

“We worked so hard to get this business going and now we have to rebuild it somehow and we will, we are strong people,” she said.

Stewart’s inventory was stored off-site and she is still doing business.

Cortez Works opened in January and the grand opening was scheduled for the day following the fire, said Donna Steward the owner.

“I started out on all these ambitious things when the unthinkable happened,” she said.

Cortez Works was going to a collaborative working space. People would pay to use the space for meetings or to work on small businesses among other things. Steward thought it would help networking in Cortez.

Steward had not yet bought insurance on her business.

She would like to restart it but she is not sure what her next step will be. She is also the owner of Studio VanGo, a graphic design company.

The fire was mostly contained to Armstrong’s building, but The White Cup Coffeehouse directly west of fire the was still closed Thursday. One owner, Emer Hatch, said the fire fighters broke a hole in the awning and sprayed water down their east wall of their building to save it, but the water left extensive damage.

“We’re thankful the equipment survived without problems,” Janet Hatch, one of the owners said.

The cleaners started work Sunday and were ripping out carpet Thursday. The business opened about eight months ago, closed for a month and had only been reopened for about 10 days before the fire broke out. The owners hope the business will be ready to reopen soon. Emer and Janet Hatch recently took over management from their daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Wayne Reichert, who are co-owners.

Directly to the east of the fire, the law office of Kelly McCabe and Hazen Brown opened for business Monday facing only cleaning a some slight roof repairs, said Stacy Merrifield an office staff member. McCabe said he was very thankful for the work of the fire fighters.

“We’re so fortunate, it could have been so much worse,” Merrifield said.

Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde said the fire call was received at 3:38 a.m. on Sunday Feb. 9. Some 50 fire fighters responded, including crews from Dolores, Lewis, Mancos and Pleasant View. No injuries were reported.

Crews battled the blaze for hours, and both eastbound and westbound traffic along Main Street was closed until about noon.

Kingery encouraged anyone with information about the fire to call the police department at (970) 565-8441.

tbaker@cortezjournal.com mshinn@cortezjournal.com

Shane Parker and Logan Vijil pull up carpet at The White Cup Coffeehouse after water damage left by Sunday’s fire. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/The Cortez Journal

Shane Parker and Logan Vijil pull up carpet at The White Cup Coffeehouse after water damage left by Sunday’s fire.

Donna Steward lost her new shop, Cortez Works, to an early morning fire on Sunday the day before the grand opening was scheduled. This is what the interior looked like before the fire. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

Donna Steward lost her new shop, Cortez Works, to an early morning fire on Sunday the day before the grand opening was scheduled. This is what the interior looked like before the fire.