West Union Fire A Set Back to Downtown Revitalization Projects

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

Rubble remains one day after a fire that destroyed two businesses in downtown West Union on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. (DAVE FRANZMAN/THE GAZETTE-KCRG)

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By Aaron Hepker

WEST UNION, Iowa — Merchants in downtown West Union say it will take time to recover from a fire that destroyed two buildings and damaged several others on the town square Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighters responded to a fire call shortly after 3:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Unionland Feed and Supply store and an adjoining business, the Top Hat Tavern. Both businesses were knocked down to help contain the fire. On Wednesday, all that remained was a pile of smoking rubble that crews erected a fence around to keep passers-by safe.

Merchants said this is not the first downtown fire in the Fayette County community. Six years ago, a fire at an auto-parts store claimed the life of one person in an upstairs apartment. In 2010, a fire displaced three businesses. And last year, a fire also destroyed a downtown restaurant.

Firefighters said there was no real hope of saving either building and both were knocked down to keep the fire from spread.

Justin Steinlage, who managed the Unionland Feed and Supply, said he had no clue anything was wrong until a neighbor came over to say his roof was on fire.

"I didn't know what was going on. Next thing you knew, there was smoke and I went in the back room and the whole ceiling was engulfed," Steinlage said.

Jessica Sadler was also cleaning up her embroidery store on Wednesday. Her building was located next to the two destroyed. The building survived but smoke damage means replacing her entire stock.

"It's going to hurt for a little bit, but it'll be OK. People know where we're at and they know we're coming back," Sadler said.

Tuesday’s fire happened within months of the community completing a downtown streetscape project. Merchants said they believe the community can recover but it is definitely a step backward after some progress in the downtown area.

No one was injured in Tuesday’s fire. One family was displaced by the fire, they were assisted by the American Red Cross.

The cause is under investigation, but one investigator said the damage was so extensive that it might be impossible to find a cause.

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