Fire decimates Dawson Creek downtown

When the front of the Alaska Hotel collapsed in a plume of fire and ash, the gasp of the crowd signified a clear end for the iconic building.

"I'm right out in front of it," said Mayor Mike Bernier from the scene. "We're trying to save the buildings next to it on both sides right now."

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The fire started in the early evening. The first sign that the hotel was in trouble was a plume of smoke.

At one point, two firefighters ran toward the building with what appeared to be axes in hand, and the sound of breaking glass could be heard before the smoke became too thick to see what was happening.

It was not 15 minutes later that flames started to lick up the outside of the building and within a few minutes the whole building was up in flames.

By 6:30 the fire could be seen from across the city, and dozens of on-lookers parked their cars on the hill to take photos.

The first piece of the building to fall was a brick chimney on the back, causing a cry of surprise to ring out from the crowd.

"Right now, the most important thing is battling the flames, making sure that nobody gets hurt," said Bernier. "Then praying that nobody was in the building, but I'm told that they're (firefighters) pretty confident they got everyone out."

He noted that "every fireman and auxiliary" is on the scene with "every available fire truck."

"I believe they've even called in Pouce Coupe," he continued. "Everybody's here; all hands on deck."

The cause of the fire has not been determined. Deputy Fire Chief Bob Fulton said the department had no comment right now: "We're just too busy fighting fires."

They were joined by the RCMP and paramedics on the scene.

When the fire pushed its way out the front, a group of kids in the crowd could be heard.

"There goes the building. Where are people going to drink now?" one asked the other.

It didn't take long for the fire to eat its way up the front of the building, causing the outer wall to bulge awkwardly at the top and sink inward at the bottom, creating a sharp lean for the front wall.

Then it came crashing down.

One man cried out, whooping and hollering, while most looked on in mute shock.

By 10 p.m., the firefighters appeared to have the fire under control, although the neighbouring Alaska Cafe and Brass Scissors were destroyed.

While the downtown area was cordoned off a block in every direction, it drew in a large crowd.

"I came in from the country. I live out on Road 214. You can see it all the way out there, six miles out," said Violet Andrius.

"It's a landmark, you know? A really historic building for Dawson Creek. I think that's a shame to be losing such a historic building."

Spectator Dylan Hait only moved to Dawson Creek a month ago. "It's pretty crazy, because we just went there," he said. "It was the most iconic building in town. It's like 150 years of heritage on the wall, and it's gone."

Sue Kenny, a city councillor, said she saw the fire when it was still beginning.

"They're doing what they can to save it none of the firefighters went inside that I could see," she said.

"It's pretty devastating. It's sad. It's really sad to see that building go down."

Bernier estimated that there were over 500 people watching the building blaze.

"It's quite an emotional time for all the people who are down here watching this," he said. "Unfortunately we've lost - I think everybody would agree - the most important landmark building for the City of Dawson Creek."

Samantha Gibeault, Dawson Creek's tourism development co-ordinator, agreed. "It's sad to lose a staple of downtown," she said. "There is a lot of draw with the Alaska Hotel; it's sort of linked with Dawson City and the Yukon, going up through the gold rush.

"We just hope everyone's safe and healthy," she said. "We're always so sad when something like this happens."

Gibeault, who was also on scene in Dawson Creek, said people are watching and trying to figure out what's going on. "First off, the flames are so big, and second off, the building's gone. People are just in shock."

Bernier agreed. "There are people everywhere who are all pretty much in shock right now," he said. "There are a lot of people who use the Alaska Hotel as a place of refuge - people slept there, people lived there. It was a place for the community."

The Dawson Creek Fire Department and RCMP are still investigating the cause of the fire.

With files from Megan Gorecki

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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