By Tim Eberly
The largest structure fire of the year in Chinook caused a significant amount of damage to a second-floor loft in the former Olson Ford dealership office building early Thursday morning.
Located on the west end of Chinook on U.S. Highway 2, the 30-by-50-foot loft burned for an hour and a half before firefighting crews from three different towns could extinquish the flames.
Chinook Fire Chief Robert Scheffelmaer discovered the fire at 5:30 a.m. Thursday while delivering newspapers.
"I just saw the smoke that was coming out the doors and the roof," said Scheffelmaer, the fire chief in Chinook for seven years. "And you could smell it."
Scheffelmaer went to the fire station, contacted the owner of the building, Art Richmond, as well as Blaine County dispatchers. Firefighting crews from Fort Belknap and Harlem assisted the Chinook Fire Department in putting out the fire.
Richmond immediately came to the store with keys to open the building.
Scheffelmaer said it took five consecutive trips inside by three-person crews equipped with hoses to put out the fire. No one was injured.
"We kept knocking it down but it was getting too hot, so we had to keep coming out," said Scheffelmaer.
He said the fire was the result of an "accidental ignition," which he declined to describe. The structure sustained a significant amount of smoke and water damage, he added.
The loft contained a paint-mixing station, paint, and parts manuals for vehicles, Scheffelmaer said.