Crews from the Vancouver Fire Department climbed to the roof to get the upper hand on a two-alarm fire in a landmark downtown business center Thursday.
Facing a fast-moving fire at one end of the Schofield’s Corner business center near the intersection of Main Street and McLoughlin Boulevard, firefighters with a ladder company and engine company went on the attack to save the structure, going after the fire as it burned through a double roof and a drop ceiling.
“There was a moment there when it was going to go either way, and the ladder company and the other engine made a significant difference in stopping the fire,” said Jim Flaherty, firefighter-spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department. “Some exceptionally skilled firefighting happened up there on the roof tonight.”
About $500,000 damage was done to the structure of the business center, with the vast majority at Mojo’s Restaurant & Lounge,1819 Main St., Flaherty said.
Damage to two neighboring businesses — City Dog Wash and Cover to Cover Books — appeared to be mostly from smoke. A rehabilitation company had been called in and was preparing to go to work once investigators cleared the building.
A landmark mural on the Main Street side of the building was not damaged by the fire, Flaherty said.
Emergency dispatchers received the first report of the fire at 5:34 p.m. Crews arriving three minutes later found heavy smoke coming from the single-story building. With flames flickering through the roof, a second alarm was sounded. Other Vancouver units responded, as well as reinforcements from Fire District 6.
“It was all hands on deck, and we saved a little piece of downtown tonight,” Flaherty said late Thursday evening.
On the 19th Street side of the building, firefighters leaned ladders up against the brick wall and hauled equipment up to the roof.
Flaherty said the crews on the roof were using a couple of tactics. Some firefighters swung sledgehammers to drive a pointed hose attachment through the roof.
“It’s called a piercing nozzle,” Flaherty said. “When you get it through the roof, you can turn it on and the water is distributed over a broad area” of the building’s interior.
The sound of firefighters cranking power saws into action signaled another tactic.
“They’re cutting vent holes in the roof. You want to get heat and smoke out of the building,” Flaherty said.
A ladder truck eventually was able to provide a better route to the roof, after its crew carefully negotiated a cat’s cradle of wires strung on utility poles along the street.
“There are multiple power lines, so you have to be careful when you raise the ladder,” Flaherty said.
The fire was brought under control at 6:15 p.m.
Vancouver police blocked intersections along Main Street and McLoughlin Avenue, but plenty of traffic — pedestrian, bicycle and even skateboard — went over and around the swollen fire hoses snaking along the sidewalks and streets.
Enrique Mendez was one of the first people who smelled smoke, but he wasn’t thinking about a burning building.
Mendez is owner of Provecho Mexican Grill and Cantina, which shares a parking lot with Mojo’s. Mendez said he went back into his kitchen and asked his cook, “Is something burning in here?'”
He was assured that everything was fine. “Then I went outside and saw the smoke,” Mendez said.
As Mendez was speaking Clark Public Utilities shut down power to the entire block.
The building was constructed in 1928 and is reported to have been one of the first Safeway stores in Vancouver when it opened on Dec. 1, 1929. That store was closed in 1938 when a new Safeway opened at 2607 Main St.