Archive for Saturday, July 31, 1999

Downtown fire shuts down three businesses

July 31, 1999


A roof fire Friday afternoon made it necessary for workers to knock down part of the facade above Southwest and More in downtown Lawrence.

Three downtown businesses were shut down Friday afternoon after roofers touched off a fire atop a building in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street.

Flames shot between Southwest and More, 727 Mass., and The Bay Leaf, 725 Mass., as the fire got stoked.

After the fire was out, Chief Building Inspector Gene Shaughnessy declared unsafe part of the curvy facade above Southwest and More and the Hair Station, both housed in the building at 727 Mass.

"It's not stable," Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical Battalion Chief Bill Stark explained later. "It's just sort of hanging there. Everything holding it there burned."

Workers using a telescoping forklift tore down about a 10-foot section of the facade later Friday.

Southwest and More owner Maria Martin, who rents her space from Jayhawk Equities LLC, watched calmly as firefighters extinguished the two-alarm blaze.

"I'm glad we still have an address," said Martin, who opened her business in September.

When a passer-by rushed in to tell her the roof was burning, Martin said her first thought was of the conflagration that destroyed Sunflower Surplus and Sunflower Bike Shop in the 800 block of Massachusetts in 1997.

Fire Chief Jim McSwain said the Friday blaze could have reached those proportions.

"The fire very easily could have gone to the building north and to the building south," McSwain said. Had that happened, "we would have been here overnight."

Roofers from Diamond Everley, who tried to put out the blaze with three extinguishers, were not injured in the fire.

"When they were heating some roofing material, flames went under some metal flashing and caught the wood that was underneath the flashing on fire," Stark said.

McSwain rolled a piece of the charred wood in his hands after inspecting the roof with Shaughnessy.

One downtown shopper said the whole block smelled like Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse.

Damage estimates were not available Friday night.

Gunda Hiebert, co-owner of The Bay Leaf, said her store would reopen today. A sign Friday afternoon told shoppers, "Closed due to stress, heat and smoke."

But several people pitched in to combat the stress felt downtown. Workers from nearby G Willikers Deli & Bar gave firefighters cool drinks -- nonalcoholic -- and passer-by Daniel Pears helped Martin retrieve records from her shop.

The Sears employee also ran home to North Lawrence and came back to give Martin and her staff a sack full of cans of cold soda.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is

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