Investigators: Appliance sparked Whiskey Row fire in Prescott

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Tess Rafols

Posted on May 9, 2012 at 7:11 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 31 at 9:53 AM

Map: South Montezuma Street
Prescott

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PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- In the light of day, investigators got a better look at the extensive damage left behind by a massive fire that tore through Prescott's historic Whiskey Row, destroying three businesses.

Fire investigators now say a small appliance in the back kitchen of the Bird Cage Saloon sparked the fire.

"My heart is broken right now," said Bird Cage owner Deborah Stamm, "We watched just as everyone else did - in disbelief."

 

The Bird Cage Saloon, Larry and Hy's Bare Bones BBQ and the Prescott Food Store, were all destroyed. 

"We're ready to re-open, once we're allowed," Kishore Badel told 3TV of his Prescott Food Store.

 

Nearly 20 residents living along the block were displaced by the fire.

Every firefighter in Prescott was called out to battle the huge fire Tuesday evening. It took 60 firefighters from 10 engines about two hours to get the flames under control. Nearby communities sent crews for backup.

Police officers were the first on the scene when the fire started shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday. They immediately began evacuating the area. Because it was dinner time, the downtown area was very busy.

The first 911 calls reported smoke billowing from the Bird Cage Saloon, but investigators have not said where the fire actually started.

Because the old buildings, most of which were built between 1900 and 1905, were all connected, there was nothing to keep the flames from spreading and the fire grew very quickly.

Residents and tourists alike were stunned by the sight. Several people, many of them taking pictures, gathered in the Courthouse Square area Wednesday morning to see the devastation the fire left behind.

Hundreds of people were in the area while the fire was raging, flames shooting as high as 20 feet into the air. All they could do was watch in shock as they place they loved burned.

"They were expecting that it could explode because it was sucking in on itself," Prescott resident Angela Johnson said. "They pushed us back … so that we didn't get hurt."

"It's just unreal," another witness said while the fire was burning.

Damage is estimated to be in the millions.

Firefighters said the fire gutted both the Bird Cage Saloon and Larry and Hy's Bare Bones BBQ. Aerial video showed where the shared roof had caved in. While a portion of the store front of the Prescott Food Store is still standing, the damage inside is so extensive that the owners will have to rebuild.

Lt. Andy Reinhardt with the Prescott Police Department said he believes without a doubt that the owners will do just that.

"It definitely will be [rebuilt]," he said. "Prescott is known as being such a historic place and it's got lots of history to it."

While Prescott landmarks were destroyed, no injuries were reported.

According to the Red Cross, nearly 20 people were displaced by the fire when they were evacuated from apartments in nearby building.  Hotel St. Michael, which is located on Courthouse Plaza, was assisting with sheltering those people.

While the damage from the fire is obvious, the cause of the fire is not.

The fire marshal, inspectors and an ATF team will try to piece together the evidence as they try to determine exactly what happened.

"Any fire like this that we have is considered to be suspicious until proven otherwise," Capt. Jeff Kowtek of the Prescott Fire Department said Wednesday morning. "Hopefully by the end of the day, they'll have a cause."

Many of the buildings in the historic district were built more than 100 years ago and do not meet the fire-safety requirements that are in place for commercial construction today.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I hope that doesn't happen again," Prescott resident Jennifer Kuhn said as she fought back tears. "I moved here because I just love it here. It's just sad to see."

While Tuesday night's fire destroyed three businesses, a fire on July 14, 1900 wiped out the entire block that has been known as Whiskey Row since the late 1800s when dozens of saloons lined the street.

Prescott residents and business owners rebuilt after that fire and the consensus is the same will happen now, nearly 112 years later.

Prescott is about two hours north of Phoenix.


Do you have photos or video of Whiskey Row or Wednesday night's fire? Upload them to YouNews and share them with all of Arizona's Family.

Share your Whiskey Row experiences and memories below.

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