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Investigators Looking for Cause of Downtown Keota Fire

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KEOTA, Iowa A swift-moving fire destroyed or damaged five buildings in the small community of Keota early Saturday.

The fire started sometime before dawn on West Broadway Street in that Keokuk County town. Firefighters remained on the scene to put out hot spots throughout the day.

Mike Detweiler, Keota Volunteer Fire Chief, said the fire apparently broke out in a portion of an old lumberyard that contained rental storage units. The fire then spread to a number of nearby businesses.

Detweiler said crews were able to save the Westendorf Costume Emporium store with just smoke and water damage. But the flames destroyed the Bermel Insurance Agency as well as an adjoining laundromat belonging to the same owner. The All Around Fitness center was also destroyed as was an old meat locker building currently undergoing renovation.

Tootie White, who watched the fire, said it was depressing to watch a losing effort as flames jumped from one structure to another.

"It (the fire) went on around the back and then the exercise building and it caught the building next door," she said.

Keota's fire chief said there is no cause yet. But because it appeared to start in one of the rental storage units at the old lumberyard, investigators will check to see if it was set deliberately.

Detweiler said it's too early to call anything suspicious, but the Iowa Fire Marshal's office will help with the investigation. The chief said teens driving around town early in the morning spotted the fire and called emergency responders.

Another early morning witness, Sue McDonald, said it was hard to watch the buildings burn for personal reasons.

"I lost my house to a fire a year and a half ago. So this was hard for me. I've lived here my whole life and it's tough to see these buildings going up," McDonald said.

Firefighters said the fire continued to flare up during the day and would require watching. No one was inside any of the businesses at the time of the fire and no one was hurt fighting the blaze.

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