Sandpoint fire

A fire tore through multiple downtown Sandpoint buildings Monday, Feb. 11, 2019.

As many as five businesses were destroyed Monday morning after a large-scale fire tore through a historic shopping center building in downtown Sandpoint.

City administrators estimated the fire caused between $4 and $7 million in damage to the 100-year-old structure. Jennifer Stapleton, Sandpoint city administrator, said altogether seven businesses were impacted, including the Grace Sandpoint church, while five were a total loss.

“This is obviously a devastating incident for us,” she said Monday morning. “Not only for those businesses directly impacted, but our businesses in the surrounding area.”

Stapleton said the fire began at about 1 a.m. along North First Avenue, between Bridge Street and Main Street. A cause has not been determined.

Ron Stocking, fire chief of Selkirk Fire Rescue, said the building’s age and construction made it particularly difficult to extinguish the blaze. By 4 a.m., he said firefighters were barred from the entering the structure as they continued to pour water on it from the outside.

Further complicating firefighting efforts was the weather, said Stocking. The National Weather Service reported about 2 inches of snow fell Sunday into Monday morning.

“It’s terrible,” Stocking said. “We’re all pretty cold.”

In addition to constant snowfall, he said firefighters also had to deal with freezing hoses.

“I’m extremely proud of the firefighters,” he said. “At the height of the fire everyone was covered in ice.”

Stapleton said fire investigators were continuing to work Monday morning to determine a cause. Meanwhile, structural engineers were assessing whether the building would need to be condemned and demolished.

Photos and video of the fire showed it overtaking a cluster of businesses, including The Hound and China Kitchen restaurants and Chocolate Bear.

She estimated it could take weeks before a decision is made. In the mean time, she said downtown traffic would be impacted as First Avenue and Bridge Street experience intermittent lane closures.

This article was first published by The Spokesman-Review.

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