Fire destroys east Havre warehouse
By Tim Eberly
Kurt Shulund finished cutting some angle iron with his chop saw Friday morning at his Havre warehouse and drove to Independence Bank, where he was in the middle of a remodeling project. He left his warehouse at 10:30 a.m., nine minutes before one of his neighbors placed a call to the fire department, stating that Shulund's place of business was on fire.
"I was just in there shortly before (the fire). I was the only one in there," said Shulund, who manages Mel Shulund Contracting with his father, Mel. He thinks a spark from the chop saw festered in a pile of saw dust on the ground, causing the fire.
"If I had still been there, I could have caught it myself. I was gone a half an hour and I come back and the building's gone."
When Shulund returned at 11 a.m. to pick up an air compressor, his 60-by-80-square-foot building was aflame, and 11 firefighters were desperately trying to contain the fire.
"Fighting a fire like this, you use a defensive attack," Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said. "We try to stay back and try to keep it under control. We just want to make sure the fire stays confined to this building. There's no way we have enough water to put this fire out."
After receiving the call at 10:39 a.m., dispatchers employed two fire engines, two rural trucks used for transporting water and one ambulance to the blaze, located at 1038 32nd Ave. E. Shulund estimated the fire caused $150,000 worth of damage to the warehouse and its contents, which were insured. His family purchased the structure in 1988.
"My heart's in my toes," Kurt Shulund said. "You accumulate the right kind of tools for 30 years and they're gone in a couple hours. I knew there was no way they could fight it. The smoke was so thick and black, I knew they couldn't get in there. The firefighters didn't stand a chance."
The firefighters successfully contained the fire. Because the nearest source of water was a fire hydrant near the old Kmart, firefighters had to shuttle their trucks back and forth approximately 10 times to replenish their water supply, Sheppard said. They fought the fire for roughly four hours, Sheppard said, but several firefighters remained until 6:30 p.m., snuffing out hotspots in the building.
"The structure is gutted," Sheppard said. "There is nothing left inside."
Shulund lost a 1998 Ford pickup, along with large quantities of construction and automotive equipment and tools. The charred building was covered with steel siding, which has potential to collapse when it reaches 1,600 degrees the main reason Sheppard instructed his firefighters to remain outside, he said.
Recently, Shulund leased one-third of the building to a Canadian businessman from Select Energy Systems. The man, whose lease officially began Sept. 1, had been working with his wife recently to clean out his rented portion of the building to prepare for the move.
"That fellow from Select," Shulund said, "he'd spent a lot of time here to fix up the area."
Despite the fire, Shulund still has a $400,000 remodeling contract with Independence Bank to fulfill. He and his father are building an accounting center for the entire bank chain a daunting task considering the circumstances.
"It's too early to plan for (the future)," Shulund said. "Right now, we'll just try to regroup and try to get through this contract we're running. I'm not sure how we'll do that."