An early morning blaze in downtown Cortez on Sunday gutted three businesses and halted eastbound and westbound traffic on Main Street for hours.
Emergency fire crews were dispatched to Stewart's Floor Covering at 20 East Main St. at 3:38 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9. Within four minutes, firefighters were on scene as flames jumped some 20 feet in the air. Assistant Fire Chief Charles Balke was with one of the first crews to respond.
"We saw heavy smoke pushing through the roof and through the front of the building," he explained. "Secondary crews came around the back and saw active fire."
Some 50 firefighters responded to the scene, including crews from Dolores, Lewis, Mancos and Pleasant View. No injuries were reported, but Stewart's Flooring, Cortez Works, and Family Shoes and More were destroyed, said Balke.
"We were able to contain the fire to those three businesses," said Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde on Monday. "There was some minor smoke damage to adjoining businesses, but they should be back open today."
While fighting the fire, power was shut off to the entire zero to 100 block of Main Street as a precaution, impacting a half-dozen businesses.
Officials allowed surrounding business owners in their place of business to remove computers and other pertinent items, Vandevoorde said.
Power was fully returned by about 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
"Power was restored before we left the scene," Vandevoorde said.
The cause of the fire remains under scrutiny by the department's arson investigator and Cortez Police Department detectives.
"It doesn't look suspicious, but the cause remains undetermined at this time," Vandevoorde said.
Balke said fire crews took a defensive approach, in part, because nobody was inside the building. After initial sweeps firemen went outside.
"It just wasn't safe enough to keep crews in there," he said.
Carolyn Hessom, one of the owners of Once Upon a Sandwich, saw the fire on her way to work Sunday morning about 7:30 a.m.
She said she was astonished to see a firefighter engulfed in smoke on the ladder.
She found it heartbreaking to see such a loss to happen to a local business like hers. Her businesses faced a similar crisis on a smaller scale when Once Upon a Sandwich flooded several years ago.
"It's devastating to your employees," she said.
Vandevoorde said that he was thankful no other businesses were lost, and he was especially appreciative of local businesses stepping up to assist.
"El Grande donated hot tea and chocolate, and let our crews use their restroom facilities," Vandevoorde said. "Plus, McDonald's donated 60 breakfasts. That means a lot to our guys when they're out there for seven to eight hours."
Pumping up to 1,000 gallons per minute, Vandevoorde said he had yet to calculate how much water was used to battle the blaze.
"It was a lot of water."
Mary Shinn contributed to this story.