The landmark building with the ‘Jesus is Alive’ sign emblazoned on the side turned into a hellish inferno Monday night.
The brick structure on 104th Street and Railway Avenue in downtown North Battleford was destroyed in the blaze that took much of the night for firefighters to contain.
North Battleford Fire and Emergency Services responded to the fire outbreak around 9:20 p.m., according to deputy chief Brian Wilson.
“About 20 after nine we were alerted by passersby to a possible structure fire at the corner of 104th and Railway Avenue,” Wilson told reporters. Fire crews “found a well-involved fire at that time.”
Much of the area was blocked off by police as fire crews worked through the night to contain the blaze and ensure it did not spread to nearby buildings.
Fire Chief Pat MacIsaac said it was a “defensive fire from the outset.” Even though the building was just across the street from the fire hall, the blaze was already too far involved to save the building.
“Between the brief time span the fire was reported to when crews were ready to attack, it had progressed to the point where entry into the building was not possible and this is a couple hundred feet from the fire hall. We focused on protecting adjacent properties.”
Among the adjacent properties under threat was the Battlefords Publishing building, home to the News-Optimist and Regional Optimist newspapers. There was also concern about Bee-Js Office Plus down the street. Fortunately, the fire was contained to the brick building and it was clear around 11 p.m. firefighters had the upper hand.
Wilson said he expected the building to be deemed unsafe and would be demolished. That was confirmed the next day by Fire Chief Pat MacIsaac in a news release, who said the building would need to be demolished immediately.
A total of 20 firefighters were on the scene fighting the blaze, along with two pumpers, the aerial ladder and three command and support units. Battleford Fire Department also joined in with one pumper, one command unit and seven personnel. They had reported to another structure fire in Battleford that broke out that evening around the same time.
While the building itself saw little use, MacIsaac did say it housed tons of military-style bandages and dressings for shipment overseas.
The fire attracted its share of onlookers, with RCMP forced to work hard to turn people away from the area.
WPD Ambulance and bylaw enforcement were also on the scene, as were SaskPower and SaskEnergy. Also there was the Department of Public Works, who tore down a wall with a backhoe so firefighters could have improved access to the fire.
Mayor Ian Hamilton viewed the destruction from the nearby fire hall and was updated on the situation by MacIsaac.
The firefighters were still on the scene around 9 a.m. the next day, working to put out the remaining hot spots at what was left of the building. Meanwhile 104th Street from Railway to 11th Avenue remained closed.
The fire proved challenging for fire crews and one firefighter was injured due to a slip and fall. He was taken to Battlefords Union Hospital for assessment.
Beyond that, there were no other injuries and no one was inside the building at the time of the fire.
The blaze took place just a week after the structure suffered heavy damage by vandals. A brick façade was extensively dismantled and the bricks were tossed from the building in a spree Feb. 23.
RCMP say until more is known about the cause of the fire, it is being treated as suspicious. Anyone with information is urged to contact the North Battleford RCMP.