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Devastating fire in Port Moody’s historic core sends businesses scrambling

A devastating fire Sunday evening destroyed two buildings in Port Moody's historic commercial core on Clarke Street while two others were damaged by smoke and water.

A devastating fire Sunday evening destroyed two buildings in Port Moody's historic commercial core on Clarke Street while two others were damaged by smoke and water.

Kirk Heaven, deputy chief with Port Moody Fire and Rescue, said 40 firefighters and 10 trucks responded to the four-alarm blaze just after 6 p.m.; the department was also assisted by an aerial truck from Coquitlam Fire Rescue.

Heaven said there were no serious injuries, although two firefighters suffered heat stroke and another sustained a minor ankle injury. He said the blaze was under control by 10 p.m. but crews remained through the night to extinguish hot spots and were still at the scene Monday morning, as was an investigator sifting through the rubble to try to determine a cause.

Four tenants in two apartments above ground-floor shops in the buildings also got out safely.

Helen Daniels, who has owned the Gallery Bistro for more than five years, was hosting a birthday celebration with 30 or so guests. They had just finished dinner when a “young man” on the roof of the adjacent building alerted them to a fire. She said when some guests went to investigate, they could see wisps of smoke between the old grocery store and the bistro, which had been closed to customers since 2:30 p.m.

Daniels said a fire extinguisher was tossed up to the young man because the situation didn’t seem that serious.

“What we had thought would be just something small got worse and worse,” she told The Tri-City News.

By the time the man came downstairs carrying his pets, fire trucks were already arriving and guests were moving their cars from the street to allow firefighters access.

Eva Wunderman, a local filmmaker working on a documentary project about Port Moody centenarian and community activist Mary Anne Cooper, said several guests helped Cooper, who was at the party and uses a walker to get around, make it out of the patio to the safety of Spring Street.

A man surveying the cleanup Monday morning said he lived in the apartment above the old grocery store and managed to escape the fire with only his dog, cat and cellphone. He wouldn't give his name but said he was now staying with friends nearby.

Heaven said Monday morning it was still too early to determine a cause for the fire because of the extent of damage.

He said when firefighters arrived they immediately went into a “defensive mode” to protect other buildings in the block, which also includes the old P. Burns & Co. butcher shop that was built in 1908 and is also listed on Port Moody’s heritage registry. He said the age of the structures made it a complicated battle.

“There’s a lot of stuff in there,” Heaven said, adding the old grocery store had at least three or four layers of roofing. “You have to take precautions.”

Gaetan Royer, whose CityState consulting business occupies the old butcher shop along with the Silk Gallery run by his wife, Port Moody Coun. Zoe Royer, said the toll of the fire could have been a lot worse.

The Royers were working on site when Gaetan Royer said they heard fire trucks converging on the area. When the loud sirens persisted, they investigated only to find the fire just doors away.

Royer said he acted immediately, removing computers, files, artwork and furniture with the help of several passersby. He said most of the items were secured in a large shipping container he has in a vacant lot next door while others were piled into vehicles.

“A combination of good things happened in a disaster,” Royer said of the effort to save the businesses. He added while his consulting practice can operate remotely, it will be several months before the art gallery can be cleaned up from smoke and water damage.

Jim Millar, the executive director of Port Moody Station Museum, said the fire could have been a lot worse had it razed the entire block. He said the Burns butcher shop survived two previous fires and the grocery store was built in 1912 to replace another that had been lost to a fire.

But he added that the impact of Sunday’s fire goes beyond the wooden structures.

“It’s going to make it much harder to revitalize that area,” he said.

Meanwhile, Daniels was not celebrating her birthday, which was on Monday, the way she intended. Instead of relaxing with friends and family, and then hosting the bistro's regular Monday night jazz concert, she was meeting with insurance adjustors and structural engineers who will determine if her building can be saved.

“It’s a pretty hopeless feeling,” she said of watching her livelihood and passion get gutted by fire. “It’s going to be a huge loss.”

Firefighting effort bursts water main

As if a major fire in the 2400-block of Port Moody’s Clarke Street wasn’t bad enough for the city’s historical centre, businesses and homes in the area also lost water service when a water main in front of Queen Street Plaza burst as firefighters were getting on top of the blaze.

Jeff Moi, Port Moody’s general manager of engineering and operations, said the huge quantities of water being poured on the fire caused the pipe to burst at around 11 p.m. The break heaved the pavement and sent a torrent of water and mud all around.

Moi said the damage to the road is “significant” and water service along Clarke Street, between Queen and Kyle streets, has been disrupted. He said its unclear how long it will take to turn the water back on and reopen the road.