MALTA, — The cause of a downtown blaze that destroyed a 95-year-old building and the five businesses it housed may never be known, Malta's fire chief said.
Wednesday's fire on Front Street was believed to have started in the basement of the building, built in 1915.
The fire burned so long and hot, and so much material fell into the basement, that finding the source of the fire may be impossible, Malta Volunteer Fire Chief Bill Rock said Thursday.
"I don't think we're going to find the cause for sure," Rock said. "It's pretty well burned up."
The fire broke out before 4 a.m. Wednesday and destroyed five businesses sharing the building: the Phillips County News, the Malta Appliance Center, 3 Sisters, Eclectic by Design and Sue's Stylette.
Firefighters were able to contain the blaze to the building, though neighboring businesses reported smoke damage and a hotel a few doors down had to be evacuated.
The Mint Bar and Family Matters department store, which shared a wall with the destroyed building, remained closed Thursday as insurance companies surveyed the damage, Rock said.
Mayor Shyla Jones has said the investigation into the fire could last up to two weeks but there was no reason to suspect arson.
The building is owned by Curtis Starr, who along with his wife Bonnie, are the owners and publishers of the Phillips County News weekly newspaper.
The Phillips County News was published Wednesday, and the newspaper will be published out of the basement of the Starrs' home while they look for new quarters, according to the Montana Newspaper Association.