More than 32 hours after a fire broke out in historic downtown Alexandria buildings, a three-block portion of Broadway (Highway 29) re-opened to traffic in both directions at about 2 p.m. Wednesday.
However, motorists traveling southbound will encounter lane closures from Fourth Avenue to Sixth Avenue, as cleanup from yesterday’s structure fire continues, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Delays and congestion are expected, MnDOT added.
The west parking lot between Fillmore and Broadway is also open from Cowing Robards and to the north.
The state fire marshal is investigating the cause of the large-scale fire that destroyed four downtown businesses Tuesday, Feb. 25. No injuries were reported.
"The city of Alexandria is still reeling in the aftermath of the fire," noted Sara Stadtherr, the city's communications coordinator in a new release Wednesday morning. "Crews have maintained an overnight watch on the scene and assessment is being done now concerning all public safety elements."
While the structures are being examined, the city asks the public to use only the sidewalks that are open and stay clear from the area unless you are visiting a business in the vicinity.
Although the city of Alexandria is grateful for the community support for the displaced residents and the business owners, at this time their immediate needs are being met, Stadtherr said.
"The city is not coordinating any collection drop-offs or fundraising efforts at this time," she said. "City leaders are meeting with impacted business owners to determine future needs and continuing to coordinate with the American Red Cross regarding the displaced residents."
More than 100 firefighters, police officers, sheriff's deputies, posse members and first responders fought the blaze on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway.
All firefighters, except those from the Alexandria Fire Department, were released from the scene by 3 p.m. Tuesday after undergoing a precautionary medical check.
Materials from the burned buildings are being hauled to the Douglas County Demolition and Landfill near Carlos. Once they are cleared to be disposed of, the materials will be transferred to a line landfill.
Backhoes were used to demolish parts of buildings that were too fire damaged to save and to keep the fire from spreading to other businesses.
The blaze, which was reported at 4:34 a.m., is believed to have originated in or near the Raapers building.
First responders and crews from six departments – Alexandria, Osakis, Garfield, Forada, Carlos and Long Prairie – were called to the scene. The Alexandria Fire Department's ladder truck was used to attack the fire from above.
Apartment buildings on that side of the block were evacuated, displacing about 20 residents who lived above the businesses, according to Stadtherr. Displaced residents were taken to the Alexandria Fire Station. The Red Cross and several volunteers are assisting them.
Many individuals have asked what they can do to help the displaced residents but at the moment there is no system set up to collect items, Stadtherr said.
"Their immediate needs are being met," she said. "We ask for everyone’s patience in long-term needs coordination."
The fire presented challenges for firefighters.
"These are older buildings," said Alexandria Police Captain Scott Kent, adding there are many places for the fire and smoke to hide because of false ceilings and voids.
It was too soon, he said, to establish where exactly the fire started.
Drivers were being diverted away from Highway 29 for several blocks around the fire.
Roers Family Bakery, Traveler's Inn and Common Ground were supplying firefighters with food and beverages early in the day, and since then the Garden Bar, Qdoba Mexican Grill and others have pitched in to help out with food.
Alexandria Light and Power was contacted to increase water flow in the area to get more water to the hoses.
As the firefighting work continued, city officials asked the public to use caution in the area. Motorists and pedestrians are asked to avoid the area, which is barricaded.
Other updates provided by Stadtherr late Tuesday afternoon:
- Lynn Timm, the Alexandria city building official, will be going through all businesses on the block to make sure they are safe.
- Besides the four businesses that were demolished — RM Tattoo, Raapers Eatery and Ale, Charlie's Bazaar and Little Darlings Children's Boutique — two other businesses in the buildings were directly impacted. They are Hidden Treasures Collectibles and Comics, and Achieve Wellness Chiropractic Center.
On Wednesday, Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, commented that news of the fire spread throughout the Capitol and was on the minds of many.
"Thanks to the tireless efforts of our firefighters and first responders, no one was injured, and we’re all so thankful for that," Westrom said in a statement. "A big thanks also to all the people, organizations, churches and others that have stepped to help out a friend or neighbor! No doubt the fire has caused a great loss for the small businesses, tenants, and so many in the city. It has impacted personal lives, families, and employment. In the spirit of selflessness, the community has once again rallied together, providing support for the firefighters, displaced citizens, and others affected. I’m proud to represent part of a city that has such resolve and kindheartedness in the face of a disaster like this. Please continue to keep everyone affected in your thoughts and prayers that their needs will be met in the days ahead!”
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, released the following statement regarding the fire:
“I thank God that there were no injuries, but as a community we are devastated by the loss of these businesses, these homes, and these pieces of our history,” said Franson. “I want to thank our first responders and the many volunteer firefighters that have been fighting this fire all day. They are truly heroes. Our community is strong, and we will come together to help those who have been impacted.”
State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, also issued a statement:
“Today, the community of Alexandria experienced a devastating fire that has resulted in the loss of businesses, homes, and parts of our city’s cherished history,” he said. “While we mourn these losses, I thank god knowing that nobody was killed in this tragedy. I want to extend a thank you to the first responders for their quick and tireless work and will keep them in my thoughts as they continue to bring the fire under control.”
Ingebrigtsen added, “This is a difficult time for everyone in Alexandria but more so for families and businesses impacted by this fire. I want to thank everyone in the community for already rallying around these folks, and offering their support. While we grieve for this loss, it is without a doubt that Alexandria will rise above this.”
The Echo Press will have updates on its website, echopress.com.