Flames engulf the True Value Hardware, left, in Virden early Sunday. A fire official said the blaze, which occurred around 4 a.m., is suspicious. The store and a seniors fourplex were destroyed. An investigation continues..
VIRDEN — The suspicious fire that destroyed True Value Hardware and a seniors fourplex in Virden on Sunday morning was the biggest blaze the area’s fire department has had to deal with in a long time, according to its Fire Chief, Brad Yochim.
The debris on the left is all that remains of True Value Hardware in Virden after a fire swept through the building early Sunday. The damage to the senior fourplex can be seen on the right. (ROBIN BOOKER/BRANDON SUN)
A passerby views the damage from an early morning fire at the True Value Hardware store in Virden on Sunday. The business and a seniors fourplex were destroyed in the blaze, which officials have deemed suspicious. (ROBIN BOOKER/BRANDON SUN)
Approximately 30 firefighters from Virden, Elkhorn and Oak Lake departments assisted in battling the blaze.
"We don’t know the cause — all I can really say is that it was suspicious in nature. There were separate fires at the same time at two different locations — at the hardware store and at the Bargain Store a block away," Yochim said.
When the fire department arrived shortly after 4 a.m. the back of True Value Hardware was on fire and the fourplex was also beginning to burn. But the main hydro line that feeds Virden’s downtown was laying right in the middle of the fire zone and it was still active.
"When I got here this line was on the ground and still live, so we concentrated on trying to save the fourplex because the flames were already shooting out of the back of the hardware store," Yochim said.
The fire department was unable to save the seniors fourplex, but the occupants were able to escape without injury.
Hydro crews worked throughout Sunday morning trying to restore power to Virden’s downtown businesses.
Victor Voden lives kitty-corner to the hardware store and he said he was surprised more buildings in Virden downtown weren’t lost because a east wind blew embers throughout downtown.
"I heard the alarm go off and I looked out my window and there were flames coming out of the back of the building," Voden said. "The fire department showed up shortly after, but it was already going pretty good and there wasn’t much they could do. The embers were being blown all over downtown—I thought more buildings were going to go up."
Cross Plumbing and Heating is located a couple doors down from where the blaze was and its owner, Dwane Cross, was called by a friend just after 4 a.m. and told that if he wanted to save anything from his business he better get to it immediately.
"The only thing that saved us was the brick building between us. The fireman told us they were surprised it didn’t burn also," Cross said. "When we got here there were embers going right over top of Chicken Chief, which is across the street and half a block away."
Yochim said they were lucky the brick heritage building, which houses the department of highways, also didn’t burn down. The fire department did have to put out small fires in the building, but it appeared structurally sound when the sun came up on Sunday morning.
Woken up by explosions from the fire, Brittany Sawatsky looked out of her window to see the fire tearing through the hardware store.
"I looked out my window to the apocalypse. The only way I can describe it, is it was like popcorn popping," Sawatsky said. "I was ready to grab my cat and get out of here. It was crazy—there were paint cans and ammunition going off. They didn’t really get it out until after 7 a.m. this morning."
The director of operations of True Value Hardware, Jamie Hercun, said it was a hard morning for him, but he is thankful that no one was hurt and that he really feels for the four senior couples who lost their possessions in the blaze.
"We’ve been here for seven years and the previous owner was here for more the 20, so it’s a business that’s serviced Virden for a long time," Hercun said. "But we are already looking forward to rebuilding and serving the public again. All you can do is look forward because looking at the past right there is not a pretty sight — all your hard work and inventory in a crumpled pile of metal."
The Fire Commissioner’s Office continues to investigate.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 10, 2012