No foul play suspected as fire’s cause

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(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER) Area firefighters direct water into The Hound as they mop up at the scene of the Feb. 11 fire in Sandpoint's Historic District.

SANDPOINT — While the fire that devastated five downtown businesses is still under investigation, there has been a lot of speculation on social media as to where and how the fire started, said City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton.

Investigators determined the building of origin is in the southern building that housed The Hound and Headlines at 202 N. First Ave, though where exactly it started in the building is still being investigated, she said.

“They believe, at this point, that it was probably in the basement of the building, and there is no reason at this point to believe there was any foul play,” Stapleton said.

There has been speculation, she said, that the fire started in an adjacent building, and rumors of “employee issues.”

While city officials had local business owners gathered for a downtown revitalization project update on Tuesday morning in the Little Panida Theater, Stapleton took the opportunity to update the crowd on the fire as well.

The fire that started in the 200 block of First Avenue on Feb. 11 burned two buildings with five businesses, including The Hound, Headlines Salon, Sandpoint Tattoo and Body Piercing, The Chocolate Bear and China Kitchen. A third building that housed Grace Sandpoint sustained heavy smoke and water damage. Stapleton said it is anticipated that the two buildings destroyed by the fire will need to be demolished. A portion of the southern wall on the Bridge Street side of the buildings was removed on Feb. 13. Stapleton said the decision to take it down was made after fissures began to appear in the walls and, with the water and cold temperatures, there was a possibility of bricks popping out into the street and sidewalk.

City officials announced last week that, for safety reasons, the investigation is on hold until the weather clears, anticipating it could take 45-60 days before a final report on the fire is issued.

“The impact of the fire, I think we are going to be seeing that for some time, and we aren’t talking weeks, we are talking months — we are potentially talking a year or two,” Stapleton said, adding it is a “complicated situation” with the multiple buildings and insurance companies involved.

Also, she said, when the buildings were originally constructed, their walls were built to support the sidewalks. Therefore, for safety reasons, the area will have to remain fenced off until it is deemed safe for pedestrians.

“We want to get the right of way restored as quickly as possible,” she said.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

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