ALPENA — While the destroyed hulk of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore still billowed smoke into the air over downtown Alpena, Habitat officials already were looking for places to reopen.

“It’s gonna take a lot of hard work, and a lot of people,” Habitat Executive Director Ted Fines said. “We’re gonna be down, but we’re not out.”

He was considering the former Ripley Street Station grocery store near the corner of Ripley Boulevard and U.S.-23.

Two firefighters were hurt battling the blaze reported shortly after 6 a.m. Sunday at the ReStore on the corner of Chisholm Street and 5th Avenue. Both firefighters were transported to MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena with non-life-threatening injuries. Both were released later on Sunday.

“During the firefighting operations, a city firefighter-paramedic was injured when a portion of a wall collapsed and he was hit by falling debris,” Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said during a press conference on Sunday. “He was immediately rescued by other firefighters.”

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Firefighters with the Alpena Fire Department work to extinguish a fire that engulfed the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and consignment shop Sunday at the corner of 5th Avenue and Chisholm Street. Firefighters from the Alpena Township were also on scene to fight the fire.

Forbush said that firefighter underwent surgery on Sunday.

A second firefighter suffered a medical emergency at the scene and was also taken to the hospital for treatment, Forbush said.

Forbush said firefighters mounted a defensive attack, which means they did not send crews into the building initially, fighting the fire from the outside with water streaming from the fire hoses.

“The 100-year old building is full of void spaces and crevices filled with combustible materials, so the fire extended rapidly,” the fire chief said.

He said firefighters were able to protect the adjoining, two-story habitat building just south of the ReStore until about 11:30 a.m., “when superheated gasses on the second floor ignited, rapidly extending through the roof.”

Courtesy Photo This photo submitted by Ted Fines shows a firefighter taking a rest before the rubble of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Sunday.

Forbush said it wasn’t until a little after 1 p.m. that firefighters were able to bring the fire under control.

Forbush said he expected crews to be on scene “well into the night” on Sunday, looking for and extinguishing hot spots.

“This is probably one of the larger and more stubborn fires that we’ve had here in Alpena for a number of years,” he said, adding it was the largest fire and closest call in terms of firefighter injury that his department has had in at least the last 10 years.

The fire briefly forced Alpena County 911 calls to be rerouted through Roscommon County because fiber optic and power lines were damaged in the fire, Forbush said.

A cause wasn’t immediately clear, but Capt. Andy Marceau of the Alpena Fire Department said it appeared the fire started in the rear of the building.

News Photo by Justin A. Hinkley Firefighters with the Alpena Fire Department and Alpena Township Fire Department work to extinguish a fire that destroyed the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and consignment shop at the corner of 5th Avenue and Chisholm Street on Sunday.

Forbush said investigators were on-scene Sunday afternoon and that they will meet with an investigator from the Michigan State Police either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“There’s no preliminary indication that there’s anything suspicious about this fire, but a cause has not yet been determined,” he said.

While firefighters worked, several people walked and drove from the surrounding neighborhoods to take photos and videos of the scene with their smartphones.

Dozens of firefighters from Alpena and Alpena Township were on the scene, along with the Alpena Police Department and the Michigan State Police. The Salvation Army brought in food for the firefighters. Late morning, a backhoe was brought in to knock down walls to aid the firefight.

Police had blocked off Chisholm for several blocks, and power was cut to much of downtown to aid firefighters. Power was restored at about 4 p.m. The fire was extinguished at 6:30 p.m.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson The Habitat for Humanity ReStore and consignment shop was destroyed by a fire Sunday at the corner of 5th Avenue and Chisholm Street.

The building closes on Saturdays in the winter season. Saturday was its first weekend closed for the season and no one was in the building at the time of the fire, Fines, the Habitat executive director, said.

The building and all of its contents were completely destroyed.

‘IT’S ALL GONE’

Fines was called shortly after the fire started and sped into town. He said he knew the building was a total loss before he even made it to the scene.

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Firefighters with the Alpena Fire Department and Alpena Township Fire Department work to extinguish a fire that destroyed the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and consignment shop at the corner of 5th Avenue and Chisholm Street on Sunday.

“I could see, when I drove South 23 onto Ripley, I could see the smoke,” Fines said. “I called my wife. I said, ‘It’s a goner.’”

The building, in addition to containing used and new housewares for retail sales, was used to store building materials for Habitat for Humanity homes. Fines said flooring, cabinets, and $9,000 worth of bathroom equipment for a house now under construction was in the building, consumed by flames. Also inside were computers, software, and cash.

“We got 14,000 square feet that’s just gonna be gone,” Fines said. “I’m just blown away. It’s overwhelming, psychologically.”

Fines said Habitat had spent $100,000 in renovations and improvements to the building over the last 18 months. An expansion was 10 days from completion.

“And now it’s all gone,” Fines said.

City property records available online show Habitat bought the building in 2007 for $195,000. Fines told The News for a story earlier this year that ReStore generates between $200,000 and $250,000 in revenue a year.

Fines said the building serves many community needs, and it’s important for the operation to restart as quickly as possible.

If anyone has any leads on a building for sale, Fines said, they should give him a call.

“We gotta get up and running again,” he said.

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley. Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or cnelson@thealpenanews.com.

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