Cause of fire at Country Mall under investigation |

Cause of fire at Country Mall under investigation

Jerry Raehal

To help

An account has been set up at the First National Bank of the Rockies to help with damages to the High Country Veterinary Clinic. Donations can be made to the Kruczek fire benefit account.

— When Vicky Kessler first arrived on the fire scene at the Country Mall about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, she admitted to having hope.

As a councilor with Horizons Specialized Services, she hoped that the fire would stay on the west side of the building, away from Horizons’ office on the east side.

She hoped her clients’ records, such as birth certificates, Social Security cards and Medicare cards, would remain safe.

By 1 a.m. Monday, Kessler stood across the street from the fire, her face illuminated by the glow of the still raging blaze.

The fire had spread and burnt out hope that the files of her clients – adults with developmental disabilities – would be saved.

“This is just devastating,” she said. “It’s devastating to the whole community.”

Craig Fire/Rescue Chief Chris Nichols described it another way: “A total loss.”

“It’s one of the bigger fires we’ve been on since the downtown fire that we went on back in the ’70s,” Nichols said.

Craig Fire/Rescue was paged to the 356 Ranney St. location at 10:16 p.m. Sunday on a report of smoke and fire. Twenty-two firefighters and three engines responded.

“When we arrived, the back one-third of the building was fully involved,” Nichols said. “It got up into the attic area and ran the whole length of the building.”

West Routt Fire Protection District was paged to assist Craig Fire/Rescue, responding with one engine and six firefighters.

At 1 a.m. Monday, firefighters temporarily backed away from the fire to let the east side of the building burn out.

The fire was contained to the building of origin at 3 a.m., according to a press release.

Four firefighters remained on scene for most of the day Monday, as the fire rekindled off and on.

“There is going to be flare ups at the building until it is demolished,” Nichols said. “There are many layers of debris still there.”

There were no injuries to firefighters. The cause of the fire is being investigated by Phoenix Investigators, the Craig Police Department, Craig Fire/Rescue and the Colorado Beauru of Investigation. Results of the investigation are not expected until Tuesday, Nichols said.

Twelve offices were located inside the Country Mall, including Horizons Specialized Services, the Yampa Valley Pregnancy Center, USDA, the parole office, a vet’s clinic (no pets were inside the clinic at the time of the fire) and hair salons, among others.

Estimates in monetary loss to the various agencies were not available.

According to the Moffat County Assessor’s Office, Red Cortner and Veldon Behrman purchased the building in 2001 for $500,000. As of Jan. 1 of this year, the building was appraised at more than $655,000.

The building that would later become the Country Mall was built in 1945. It has been remolded and added on to several times during the past six decades. At the time of the fire, the 22,048-square-foot building sat on 2.07 acres.

Part of the problem in fighting the fire was because of the building’s age and construction, Nichols said.

“It was a pretty complex structure due to its age and number of remodels,” Nichols said. “If you look at it right now, it’s a total loss.”

Walking around the west side of the burning building at 2 a.m. Monday, Country Mall’s managing partner Red Cortner’s perspective was not on the building.

“Fifty-five people worked in here, and where are they going to be housed at now?” he said. “My biggest concern is not the building, because that is just brick and mortar, but you are dealing with people’s lives.”

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