After fire ripped through a strip mall in Westlock’s west end earlier this month, causing over half a million dollars in damages, business owners were faced with the decision to rebuild or cut their losses.
The cause of the fire is a result of broken heated tips of a carbide-tipped saw blade that was being collected by sawdust extraction equipment, fire chief Stuart Koflick said in a statement.
A team of provincial, municipal and insurance investigators also determined damage to sit between $500,000 and $800,000, he said.
Three businesses were affected by the Aug. 31 blaze, which had town and county firefighters battling for roughly nine hours to put out the flames.
Some businesses fared better than others, with Water Pure & Simple sustaining minimal damages, while both Open Season and Vision Cabinets face a bumpy road ahead.
Vision Cabinets was destroyed in the fire and now stands with charred walls and an interior of ash. Despite this devastating loss, Vision Cabinets owner Brian MacLeod remains optimistic.
“It’s just part of life. The road has many twists and turns in it and, lots of times, you wish you knew what was going to happen ahead and lots of times you wish you didn’t,” he said. “That’s what makes life interesting.”
The business had many customers lined up hoping to have their homes modified in the coming months, all of which will have to be patient as the business tries to recoup the losses.
For the most part, he said his customers are understanding of the situation.
“I’ve worked for customers around Westlock for 21 years, so consequently, I’m always busy.” MacLeod said. “It’s put us behind the 8-ball, that’s for sure.”
He said that there has been an outcry of support for the business and many generous area residents have come forward to offer a helping hand.
“The people of Westlock and area have been just super, just fantastic. I’ve had so many calls from people that are feeling for our loss and stuff like that and so many offers from different people for things,” he said.
Through the community’s generosity, MacLeod has found a temporary location to set up shop in. It is a basic location not equipped with plumbing, so he said he is hoping to have a more permanent spot set up for the coming winter.
“You can look at it two ways. You can pout about it, which I probably did for the first bit, then you get mad and, after all that gets straightened around, you just go ahead and we’re not going to quit,” he said. “We’re going to carry on and keep going.”
Open Season has been forced to close its doors for the coming months as it sorts out insurance and technicalities, said owner Colton Fedorvich, but he too hopes to carry on and keep going.
He said he hopes to get the business back up and running as soon as possible, but is at the mercy of insurance, adding that even if they do find a temporary location, it would be difficult to stock items for the coming hunting season since most warehouses have empty shelves.
“It’s possible that we might be doing some stuff at home, but with guns and stuff like that, it’s tricky. Archery, maybe, but it’s still to be determined,” he said.
Few products from inside the shop, which is now missing a roof, are salvageable due to the extent of the smoke and water damage.
However, Fedorvich extends his gratitude to firefighters who were able to retrieve the items during the blaze, even though most items have since been deemed write-offs by his insurance company.
Among the items recovered from the shop were large quantities of gun powder and ammunition, as well as a taxidermy bear worth $6,500. The bear requires cleaning but was otherwise unharmed in the blaze, he said.
For Water Pure & Simple, owner John Vandenborn said the shop suffered the least amount of damage.
“We actually experienced very little damage and everything is business as usual for us at the moment,” he said, adding that whatever damage incurred is being cleaned up.
Although the road to rebuilding might be rough on the businesses, owners said they are pleased with the way the fire department responded to the blaze.
“You’re talking a place that has a gun store with ammunition in it and you’ve got my shop with lacquers and stains and all sorts of things,” MacLeod said.
“For guys that just volunteer their time out of the goodness of their hearts, man, you’ve got to just stand back and salute them.”