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Wednesday, 20 August 2014 15:04

Fire hits downtown Sylva

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The downtown Sylva businesses housed in the Main Street buildings impacted by a weekend fire stand with blackened bricks and blistered innards. It’s not a pretty sight. 

“It doesn’t look salvageable to me,” Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody told a full house crowd during an emergency meeting following the fire. 

Early Saturday morning, firefighters responded to a fire at Trevalino’s Restaurant. The fire is believed to be electrical in nature, perhaps beginning in an air handler, but an exact cause is still being determined. By the time the blaze was contained a early Saturday afternoon, the damage was significant. 

Town leaders informed the public a couple of days after the fire that the building housing Trevalino’s would likely have to be demolished; that was the report they were getting from the insurers. Until then, the portion of Main Street between Spring and Evalina streets would need to remain closed. 

“The structural engineer is coming tomorrow, we’ll get a game plan from there,” Sylva Town Manager Paige Roberson said at the emergency meeting. “We’re going to do this as quickly as possible. It’s not going to be fast, but we’re going to do it as fast as we can.”

Downtown business owners in attendance at the meeting were concerned about the rippling ramifications from the fire. How long would traffic be routed around the affected area of downtown? What impact do barricades and crime-scene tape have on business? Can the town do anything to advertise the fact that downtown is still open for business?

Businesses owners with businesses located in properties neighboring Trevalino’s were concerned about damages and inventory. They wondered when they might be able to salvage what lay behind the tape and barricades, but were told entering the properties posed too big of a liability issue.

“Can I get my stuff out of my store,” said Backstreet Airsoft owner Jeff Moss, explaining that his military surplus inventory needed rescuing from his Mill Street establishment. “I’m a big boy, I can walk through a building.”

Sylva Public Works Director Dan Schaeffer explained that it was too risky to allow anyone in the impacted properties yet due to the chance of the structure collapsing. 

“Cause you’re seeing some bowing in the building,” Schaeffer said. “If it fell, it’d go all the way across backstreet, or it could only fill one lane.”

After the emergency town meeting, Moss stood in the parking lot by his pickup and pondered the situation. His store received substantial water damage as the fire was fought and he feared losing the inventory stuck inside.

“It’s a pool,” Moss said. “It’s just gonna either mold or rust up.”

And, of course, there’s the loss of revenue as the business sits dormant. Moss is concerned about his employees weathering such a stretch. 

“I’ve got some money set aside, they don’t,” he said. “They need to work.”

Other businesses feeling the brunt of the weekend fire include Southern Signs, Black Rock Outdoor and Motion Makers Bike Shop. Black Rock and Motion Makers share walls with Travelino’s.

“It’s a mess,” said Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Makers. 

Cranford, like other business owners, was allowed to enter his impacted property initially after the fire to retrieve must-have items.

“Just for a little bit, to collect anything that was personal in nature,” he explained. “My business papers, computers. At that point everything was wet.”

While the building housing Motion Makers didn’t take the direct him, Cranford expected it to be tallied as totaled along with the neighboring structure where the fire began. 

“The general consensus is that our building will come down,” the business owner said Tuesday afternoon. “Most people think it’s not going to be able to stay.”

Cranford was worried that if the property neighboring his business fell it could start a chain reaction.

“If our building goes, what else goes?” he wondered. “You know, how big of a domino effect is it going to be?’

For now, Cranford is concentrating on retrieving inventory and customers’ bikes that were currently being tended to. He plans to set up shop somewhere temporarily in order to get back to work.

The fire is also giving the downtown business owner a reason to rethink his location. While he enjoys “being a part of downtown Sylva,” much of his customer base stems from Western Carolina University in nearby Cullowhee and the current location presents some logistical issues.

Cranford is trying to glimpse a silver lining in the midst of bad news.

“The upside of this is there’s an opportunity for us, at least temporarily, to experiment with another part of town,” he said. “We’re gonna reopen … my gut feeling is we probably won’t be able to be at 552 Main again.”

Or, maybe Main is still an option. By Tuesday after, the structural engineer had given the fire-damaged properties a thumbs-up.

“The building is structurally sound, both Trevalino’s and Motion Makers,” said Roberson. 

While the structures are sound, the damage is extensive. Roberson reported that Trevalino’s front and back walls, as well as its beams, were sound but that the remainder could be chalked up to a “long remodel.”

That structurally-sound assessment will go a ways toward easing fears along Main Street. Business owners are being allowed to reenter their impacted businesses and by Wednesday, one lane of Main Street and one lane of Mill Street will open to traffic, ending the detour. 

“Much better than I was thinking,” Roberson said.

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