Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Glewwe Store Fire - 1971

Loss Near $1/2 Million

  Glewwe's Will Be Back . . .

   "A fire apparently cause by lightening destroyed the Glewwe Food market at 511 Marie Ave. early Thursday.
   Elmer Stassen, owner of the firm, tentatively estimated the loss between $400,000 and $500,000.  He said he thought most of the amount was covered by insurance.
  THE BLAZE was the worst in South St. Paul in over three years, according to Fire Chief Frank Kosowski.
   The alarm was turned in at 3:01 a.m. by two city policemen - Harvey Roth and Earl Nies - who reported they saw smoke billowing out from under the eaves at the one-story 12,000 square -foot store.
   Kosowski called the 18 available members of the Fire Department to the scene along with every piece of city equipment - three pumper engines, an aerial ladder truck, and a hose wagon.
  HE ALSO called in the Thompson Grove Fire Department from Cottage Grove to provide a pumper engine to cover the rest of the city in case of another fire.  The Thompson Grove Department sent six men with the engine, half of whom went to the scene of the fire at Glewwe's.
   KOSOWSKI SAID the store was beyond saving when firefighters arrived.  The entire are above the false ceiling in the building was in flames, he said, and the fire had also penetrated down into some parets of the store.  Moments later, the chief said, flames started shooting out of the roof.
   "It sounded like a popcoprn popper only a little bit louder," Kosowski said.  This noise probably was caused by explosions of heated aerosol cans and bottles in the store, he added.

   THE FIRE chief said he decided it was useless to send any men into the building and concentrated on keeping the blaze from spreading to nearby structures.  Over 4,000 feet of hose, hooked to four hydrants within two blocks of the burning building, were used in pouring wter onto the area of the fire.  By 6:30 a.m. the store was reduced to little but rubble, and firefighters considered the blaze under control. 
   After that the only concern, Kosowski said, was to protect three electric transformers on a power pole nearby and to keep a store and garage across the alley from the fire site wetted down.
   IN MID-AFTERNOON Thursday, one of the three pumper engines was ecalled from the scene: the other two remined until 8 p.m.  Barricades which had been placed at three intersections on Marie and one on Southview Blvd. were not taken down until 9 p.m.
   Kosowski said the smoke was so heavy on 5th Ave. in the early-morning hours that it was impossible to see.  He sent police to evacuate people from homes on the east side of 5th Ave. in the block across from the store prior to dawn when the danger of wind spreading the fire was greatest.
   A large crowd was already at the scene when firemen arrived, and many people remainded throughout the day.
   Kosowski said he talked with Stassen, Store Manager John (Red) Anderson,  and City Engineer Tom McMahon and decided the building should be razed.  A crane arrived about 1 p.m. Thursday and started clearing away the rubble.
  FIREMEN WERE recalled several times Friday to put out small fires that had been rekindled in the wreckage.
   The cement-block building with brick facing was one of two large Glewwe food stores in South St. Paul.  The other is at 1319 Thompson Ave.  Glewwe's had operated a store at the Marie location for 39 years, Stassen said.
    The owner set up an office in a shop at 515 Marie after the fire and said Friday he expected to start planning for a new store within a day so.  He said his current thinking is to build on the same site.
   Kosowski said he believes the fire started when a bolt of lightening struck a place on the west side of the store where service wires enter the building during the severe storm early Wednesday evening.
   A NEARBY resident reported she heard a loud crack of thunder about 7:30 p.m., looked outside, and saw what appeared to be a big ball of fire giving off sparks on the west, or alley side of the store.
   She said she was going to call the fire department but let it go when the ball of fire disappeared.  Kosowski sid the fire probably entered the building through the service lines and progressed through the upper part of the ceiling until it was discovered and reported by police.
   The fact that some items of merchandise in the lowest area of the building were found undamaged in the rubble supports the theory that the fire started in the upper part, the chief said.  He added he planned no further investigation unless he receives new information, explaining that there is nothing left at the site for experts to examine.
   "SOME FIREFIGHTERS worked 18 hours straight Thursday as a result of the Glewwe blaze," Kosowski said.  He expressed gratitude to people in the area for their cooperation and their kindness in bringing refreshements and a lunch to the firemen.
  The most recent fire that came anywhere near causing damage on the scale of Thursday's blaze was the one which destroyed a Coast-to-Coast store on Concord St. in 1968, resulting in a loss of $155,000, according to Kosowski.

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