By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
In the early morning hours on Wednesday, Nov. 28, the Jones County Dispatch Center received a 911 call at approximately 3:33 a.m. of a reported large structure fire behind the 100 block of E. First Street in Monticello. The Monticello Fire Department was called out shortly after, as well as the police department and ambulance service.
Monticello Police Officer Corey Roberts was one of the first officials on scene. He immediately surveyed the situation and entered the apartment units behind Tease Salon & Spa to evacuate the tenants inside. According to the police report from Monticello Police Chief Britt Smith, “Officer Roberts successfully advised the tenant, who was inside sleeping (in the rear apartment) unaware of the fire, and escorted the female subject to safety. The tenants of the two remaining occupied apartments safely fled their apartments without injury.”
Ashley Husmann and Justin Thomas lived together in the rear apartment behind Tease Salon. They moved there in August. Husmann said she was in bed and had no idea of the fire.
“I remember being woken up and saw a cop standing over my bed,” she said. “I was in a daze. I took my blanket, wrapped it around and the cop helped me get out.”
Thomas, who works at NCI Building Systems, was just getting off work at 3:30 a.m. when he saw Officer Roberts’ squad car race by.
“I saw him (Roberts) stop in front of the alleyway and I thought, ‘This isn’t good,’” Thomas said. “I took off in a dead run and the building was all engulfed.”
Thomas said he started to run into the apartment to find Husmann when she called out his name from across the street.
“As soon as I got up off the stairs (into the apartment), a whole building piece fell down,” recalled Thomas.
Monticello Fire Chief Mark Stoneking remarked on the heroic efforts of Roberts in evacuating all of the downtown apartments.
“He did a terrific job of evacuating everyone and getting them to safety,” said Stoneking.
He said when their fire department arrived on scene, they did not know the extent of the fire.
“We knew it was interior,” he said.
The MFD called the Anamosa FD for stand-by. When MFD arrived at the fire, they called Anamosa for assistance. In all, four area town volunteer fire departments assisted at the fire: Anamosa, Hopkinton, Manchester and Cascade. Stoneking said they called Manchester to assist with their ladder truck to fight the fire from the top of the downtown buildings.
The MFD started by attacking the fire from the back alley. Stoneking said once they had it under control from the alley, the firefighters could then enter the buildings from First Street to fight the fire from inside.
With over 70 volunteer firefighters on scene at one time, they established staging areas. When one group would emerge from the buildings, others were ready to go inside and take their place. Groups were assigned duties from there.
“It’s an accountability system,” said Monticello Assistant Fire Chief Mike Wink. “With staging areas, we know where the guys are.”
In all, four downtown businesses were affected: Keleher’s Jewelry, Tease Salon & Spa, Monticello Carpet & Interiors and Home Furniture Gallery. Stoneking said a portion of the Monticello Carpet building was severely damaged by the fire and water, as well as Tease Salon (That building is owned by Steve Intlekofer). Keleher’s and the furniture store both took on extensive smoke damage.
At around 7 a.m., Stoneking called the State Fire Marshal to inform their office about the fire. In the case of injury, death, arson or an extreme dollar amount caused by a fire, Stoneking explained they call in the State Fire Marshal to investigate. Their officials were on scene all day Wednesday and Thursday.
“Because of the extent of the damage and multiple property owners involved,” remarked Stoneking, “we had to notify the State Fire Marshal.”
According to a report from Police Chief Britt Smith, the fire was ruled accidental and not suspicious. It appears to have originated in the rear of Monticello Carpet & Interiors. Investigators were on scene Monday morning, Dec. 3, to provide the announcement to insurance adjusters.
After arriving on scene before 4 a.m., the MFD was on scene till about 1 p.m., making sure hot spots did not flare up within the buildings. First Street (a portion of Highway 38) was shut down for part of the day, with traffic being rerouted through Monticello.
Both Stoneking and Wink said there were many factors that allowed them to fight the fire quickly before it got any worse. There was no wind that morning. The temperatures could have been colder. For winter, the weather cooperated as well.
All of the apartment residents living in the downtown block from Home Furniture Gallery all the way to Superior Appliance Inc. were evacuated to City Hall, where Red Cross volunteers assisted them with warm blankets and other needs.
Brenda Leonard, Jones County Emergency Management coordinator, received a call from the dispatch center around 5 a.m. She is the liaison with the Red Cross and state resources. Leonard made sure that someone from the Red Cross was “on scene for those displaced by the fire, procuring any needed resources for the firemen and law enforcement.”
Apartment residents that were displaced received hotel vouchers if they do not have any other housing options, as well as a debit card that can be used to buy clothing, toiletries and other necessities. They are also given vouchers to Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
“They (the Red Cross) can also aid them in finding another apartment/house to rent,” explained Leonard.
Monticello Mayor Dena Himes commented on the “outstanding volunteer fire departments in small communities that were ready to lend a helping hand at a moments notice.
“These are all volunteers that put their lives on the line,” said Himes. “What an extraordinary team of volunteer firefighters we have in Monticello!”
Bob Chronowski, who co-owns Home Furniture Gallery with his wife Connie, said he was wakened at 4:30 a.m. on Nov. 28 by a call from the sheriff’s department.
His building, on the corner of First Street and Cedar Street, didn’t go up in flames, but sustained damage of its own.
“Mine was 90 percent smoke damage,” Chronowski said. “My building filled up with smoke.”
The furniture inside is now “freight salvage,” he said. “It’s not stuff that would be saleable, to me.”
Chronowski, like other building owners downtown, is waiting to see what insurance will do for him.
“I plan to stay in business,” he said. “Right now, I’m trying to take care of the obligations that I already have. I have customers with merchandise on order.”
Chronowski has rented a small space in town to store furniture until it can be delivered to customers, but adds, “I don’t have a showroom.”
He said he hopes to eventually be able to move back into the original building. Much of it depends, he said, on whether the wall connecting the furniture building to Monticello Carpet & Interiors will be torn down.
“I can see us getting back in there, but I don’t know how much damage there is to the upper portion of the building,” he said. “There are a lot of questions down the road. Anything I do, I’m going to try to do it for the benefit of the business people in town.”
He said customers can still contact him at the regular Home Furniture Gallery number with questions or needs. He has had the business number transferred to his home phone and cell phone.
“The customers have been good,” Chronowski said. “They’re all very understanding.”
Sandy Moats with Monticello Carpet said she was notified by the Sheriff’s Office at 3:50 a.m. of a downtown fire.
“I was told our building was affected by a fire,” said Moats. “When I got there, I couldn’t get inside because it was so bad so I waited across the street.”
That building is owned by John Althoff, a representative of Cascade Lumber.
“It’s just devastating,” remarked Diane Gray who also runs Monticello Carpet with Moats.
Moats said watching the firemen in action, it was as if she was watching all of this unfold on TV, not right in front of her.
Joel Althoff, owner of ITS and John’s son, said this is the second fire their family and company had gone through. In January of 1997, Cascade Lumber was destroyed by a fire.
“Having gone through one business fire,” said Joel, “we were prepared emotionally when we got there.”
After sometime the day of the fire, Joel said they were allowed to go inside to remove any salvageable records and valuables. From what they could see, the entire east half of their building took on the brunt of the damage from the fire and water.
Immediately as the morning hours approached, Moats and Gray were set up with computers and phones inside ITS.
“We needed to get our business going again as soon as possible,” said Moats. She said they had reorders to make and inventory to restock for the holiday season.
As last week progressed, Monticello Carpet looked for a downtown location to move into so they could retain their presence once again along First Street. They will be moving into the former Almost Famous dance studio, located at 107 W. First St. Their phone number (465-3133) will remain the same.
“We hope to have merchandise once again within the next few weeks,” said Gray.
“It’s business as usual,” said Moats. “Nothing has changed. We’re committed to our customers and service.”
The gals at Monticello Carpet said they greatly appreciate the outpouring of support from the community and local business owners as well.
Check their Facebook page for updates on the move and relocation.
Carrie Schroeder is owner of Tease Salon & Spa, which was planning to open in its new location downtown, on the very day the buildings burned.
“From the sound of it, they’re going to condemn the building,” Schroeder said. “I’m looking around, trying to find another space, or trying to decide if I’m going to reopen.”
“I heard about the fire at 4:10 a.m.,” Schroeder said. “My friend’s husband is a volunteer on the fire department, so she heard it over the scanner. She heard the address and called me.”
Schroeder arrived about 4:20 a.m.
“At first, I honestly didn’t think it was going to be that bad,” she said. “I felt like, you clean up and start over. There was a lot more damage than what I would have expected. What isn’t covered in soot is covered in water.
“At that point, it was upsetting.”
Schroeder said she had insurance. It may not cover all her losses, but she said, “Help is help.”
She is considering her options.
“I’d like to reopen,” Schroeder said. “I’ve been in town for seven years. But I don’t want to open where it’s not going to be conducive to good business.”
Ironically, Schroeder was previously in the building where she was going to reopen, when she operated Whoop-De-Doo Salon.
Steve Intlekofer, president of Affordable Hazards Removal of Monticello, owns the building that was home to the new Tease Salon & Spa, as well as three apartment units.
“The insurance adjuster thinks the buildings will be condemned,” Intlekofer said. “If that’s the case, I probably won’t rebuild. It’s cost-prohibitive. You can’t get the rent. The cost vs. the rent is just not there.”
Intlekofer said he has cleanup insurance, and will get the area cleaned up.
“The fire creates a whole lot of issues that are unresolved,” he said. “It’s not cheap getting rid of these buildings.”
He did say he has a suggestion, to use the area for a downtown parking lot.
“You hear complaints about how there’s not parking downtown,” he said. “Well, here’s an excellent opportunity. We have more buildings than businesses as a rule.”
Tom and Teri Keleher own their jewelry shop, which is next to Tease Salon. Teri said they were notified of the fire shortly after 4 a.m. when their sensor alarm went off at their home. She said her cell phone immediately lit up with calls and messages.
“When we got downtown, we knew the place was full of smoke because of the black windows,” she said.
When Tom unlocked and opened their front door, Teri said that’s when they saw the smoke.
Keleher’s sustained heavy smoke damage. Looking inside the jewelry cases and on the shelves where jewelry boxes sat, black soot covered everything.
“You don’t realize what smoke damage does to everything,” said Tom. The Kelehers think they might have to gut everything from the floor up. Teri said some of the jewelry was salvageable and was sent in for cleaning.
“We lost half of our merchandise and inventory,” said Teri.
Like Monticello Carpet, Keleher’s Jewelry did not waste time in relocating their business. After looking at a few options, they have opened at the former State Farm office next to Subway, 315 S. Main St. Their phone number is still 465-3640.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” remarked Tom of the move. Just as Rick Meyer relocated State Farm, the Kelehers were able to move right in. “We want to get up and going again.”
The Kelehers said there has been a huge out-pouring of support from everyone.
“We have some good people here in Monticello,” they said.
They don’t know what the future of their building will bring; it depends on the owners of the adjoining building.
Follow updates on Keleher’s Jewelry Facebook page.
All of the business owners, apartments residents and the fire department would like to thank the community for their support the day of the fire and all last week. As those affected by the fire started boxing things up to be moved, people extended helping hands to assist in moving.
Darrell’s – A Family Tradition, Citizens State Bank, Bank of the West, and Fareway Foods supplied firefighters and business people with sandwiches and coffee the morning of the fire.
“We were happy to do it,” said Darrell Reyner, owner of Darrell’s. “I love our fire department. Look at the millions they saved by getting there so quickly.”
Java Jones’ Leann Herman also helped out, giving free coffee to those affected by the fire who stopped by.
The fire department said they received so much food, water and hot beverages that morning of the fire.
“The moral support was great as well,” added Chief Stoneking. “People came up to us, thanking us and giving us a pat on the back. It helped make a long day nicer.”
(Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor, also contributed to this article.)
PHOTOS: Top: To combat the fire from the top of the downtown buildings, the MFD called the Manchester FD in for aid with their ladder truck. A total of five fire departments helped on scene: Monticello, Anamosa, Hopkinton, Cascade and Manchester. The fire affected four businesses: Home Furniture Gallery, Monticello Carpet & Interiors, Tease Salon & Spa and Keleher’s Jewelry. (Photo by Dan Gottschalk, freelance photographer)
Second: Monticello firefighters Tim Zimmerman and Tim Malchow check for hot spots in the back of the Monticello Carpet building. (Photo by Kim Brooks)
Third: This photo was taken inside Monticello Carpet & Interiors after the fire was out. The extensive smoke, fire and water damage can be seen throughout the store. (Photo by Mark Spensley)
Fourth: This is the scene of the downtown fire from behind along Grand Street. The building to the left in the photo is the Monticello Express and Shoppers’ Guide. Multiple apartments were destroyed in the fire. (Photo by Dan Gottschalk, freelance photographer)
Bottom: Ashley Husmann (left) and Justin Thomas stand outside the lower level apartment they shared (open door, lower left) late Wednesday morning, Nov. 28, several hours after fire destroyed the building. (Photo by Pete Temple)