Smoke hung in the air in downtown Great Bend Wednesday afternoon as firefighters battled a fire in the Zarah Mall building, which contains multiple retail stores. Crews arrived in the middle of the afternoon, braving the cold and wind, and were on the scene well into the early evening Wednesday.
Great Bend Fire Chief Luke McCormick said they received a report shortly after 3 p.m. Wednesday. When crews arrived, they discovered a fire in the alley behind the building. Upon entering, crews found heavy smoke and flames in the rear, or east side, of the building in the basement and on the first floor.
At that time, GBFD called in several other area departments as they enacted their mutual aid protocol. The department requested aerial ladders from Lyons, Ellsworth, Russell and Hays. Crews from Ellinwood, Albert and Claflin, along with an engine from Ellsworth and a mobile air unit responded. In addition, all crews from Great Bend were on the scene.
Rice County also sent an EMS unit to Great Bend to provide ambulance coverage for the city while Great Bend crews were on the scene of the fire. Law enforcement blocked off the 1200 block of Main as well as the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Lakin Avenue while crews battled the blaze.
McCormick said no injuries were reported due to the fire. Deputy Chief Brent Smith said final damage estimates had yet to be completed, but initial estimates suggest damage to be around $150,000.
Crews returned to the scene Thursday to determine a cause as well as the extent of damage to the building. Smith said the cause of the fire was determined to be accidental, and that the point of ignition was from improperly discarded smoking materials on the exterior of the rear of the building, on a stairwell leading to the basement.
Businesses in the building were closed Thursday as crews assessed the damage, said Mark Mingenback, who is on the board of directors with MyTown LP, the organization that owns the building. He did not yet have a timeframe for the businesses in the building – RePerks, Miss Pretty Pickles, and Heart of Kansas Mercantile – to reopen.
While there was no significant structural damage to the businesses, much of the east side of the building, where the fire started, was, “permeated with smoke,” Mingenback said. As of Thursday afternoon, the building still did not have gas or electric service, and MyTown was waiting on insurance adjusters to determine the status of the inventory in the retail stores.
Commercial cleaning crews were in the process of cleaning RePerks, Mingenback said, and they hope to reopen once gas and electric service are restored.