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Landmark building burns in Innisfail

A building that once held Berscht’s Clothing Store, then Jackson’s Pharmacy and most recently Bigfoot Sports was gutted in a blaze so big that smoke clouds could be seen six kilometres away on Hwy 2.

Shortly before 8 p.m., Innisfail Fire Chief John Syroid said as far as they know there was no one in the building.

But he said a Bowden firefighter was hurt when a ladder bumped him on the head. He received medical assistance right away and he was fine, Syroid said.

The first floor held the sporting goods store, with four apartments on the second floor.

The building on the corner of 50 Street and 50 Avenue is in the heart of the downtown of Innisfail. Syroid said they don’t know what caused the fire, but it started upstairs.

“We don’t know why. The investigation will maybe bring something up,” he said.

The sporting goods building connects to other buildings up the block, including Dundee Wealth Management next door.

Firefighters were watching to ensure the fire didn’t spread down the block.

Also next door in the back alley of the building is the Innisfail Food Bank and not far from that is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Innisfail — neither of which could be seen the smoke was so thick.

Syroid said he couldn’t estimate the cost of the damage done to the building.

Audrey Tedrick lives in Snowberry Downs Condominiums, with a view of the back of the building. She said it was almost 6 p.m. and she was about to turn on the Brier when she saw what looked like steam coming from the building. She said it took a while before she could see flames.

Firefighters were called out at around 6 p.m. and they immediately called for some help from other fire departments.

Besides Innisfail Fire Department, Red Deer County Fire Department brought their ladder truck and Bowden firefighters helped tame the inferno.

Even after fighting the blaze for more than an hour flames were still licking above the roof of the building and smoke was billowing out the back and from the top.

A smell like that of a large campfire enveloped the entire downtown.

Justin Williams has lived in the community for more than 30 years. He runs the Innisfail Hotel a couple blocks down the street.

“It’s pretty shocking,” he said. He remembers going into the old Berscht’s Clothing Store as a kid to raid the basement, finding old 60s style ties for a crazy Grey Cup outfit. He heard the building was on fire shortly after shift change at the hotel. As one of his workers was leaving it looked really foggy outdoors and then five minutes later she came back and told him the sporting goods store was on fire. He walked up the block to have a look.

Others sat in cars trying to keep warm as they watched the building. Some people took pictures with cameras or their cell phones.

Debi Waddy was watching in front of ATB Financial. She was born in 1953 and she said as a kid Berscht’s, which used to be in the building, was the only clothing store in town. She said she probably got not only her first set of shoes from the store, but her “first everything.”

“It’s sad. It’s history,” she said.


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