Whitehorse Star, January 2, 1991
FIRE BREAKS OUT AT SAAN STORE
What appears to be a major fire broke out at the Saan clothing store at the corner of Second Avenue and Ogilvie Street at about 12:30 this afternoon.
Many of the city's firefighters were called to battle the blaze, which appeared to be concentrated in the rear loading dock, office and staff cafeteria areas. Flames were shooting out from those areas of the structure, and smoke billowed from it, mixing with the thick shroud of ice fog.
The RCMP and city publics works crews were erecting traffic barricades at press time, as firefighters began a long afternoon's work in -42 degree temperatures fighting the city's first major blaze of the New Year.
Several motorists pulled over in their vehicles to watch the activity, with only three pedestrians braving the frigid weather to have a look.
Whitehorse Star, January 3, 1991
SAAN STORE WILL BE REBUILT
by Chuck Tobin
The Saan Stores Ltd. Whitehorse outlet will "definitely" be replaced, store manager Jim Tait vowed this morning.
"Just exactly when, they (the Winnipeg head office) are not saying," he said in an interview. "They are possibly going to be looking for a temporary location ... they are discussing it right at this moment."
The city's fire chief, meanwhile, believes a sprinkler system would have saved the building, had it been equipped with one.
Tait watched his clothing store burn to the ground in -43 degree temperatures Wednesday afternoon, just over four years after its November, 1986 grand opening. Despair was evident in his eyes.
"It looks like the whole thing is gone," he said as he looked through the large display window along Second Avenue that firefighters were knocking out to battle the blaze.
Pockets of flames throughout the floor area of the store were barely visible through the smoke and steam. But for the most part, the floor area was clear, except for the merchandise. Racks of clothes closest to the front windows were just then starting to catch fire, the "Sale" sign still quite visible.
"I've had it," said Tait, having seen enough.
"I have to go call the head office." He walked a short distance, returned, a blank stare on his face, had another look, and then left.
There were no injuries in the fire, and the store was cleared well before flames were visible inside, Tait said.
Damage estimates were not available. But the blaze has left six full-time and five part-time employees without work.
The cause is still undetermined. But Whitehorse fire chief Brian Monahan said this morning, "We suspect it is electrical based on information from the manager of the store.
"... We still have guys down there today cooling off hot spots. We want to try and get in there today, through the mountain of ice, to do some kind of investigation."
The fire department received the call at 12:31 p.m. Firefighters were on the scene at 12:33.
Not more than an hour later, the north wall, the one closest to the Chevron service station, collapsed. Most of the ceiling had come down by then, and the floor area was turned into a witches' broom of insulation, electrical cables and charred framing as the walls began to lean more and more outward.
And within 2 1/2 hours, just about everything was on the ground.
Monahan said he does not have a damage toll. But $300,000 would be a "wild guess" at the cost of the building, which was wood-frame construction with concrete blocks on the outside.
The building was without a sprinkler system. Monahan believes that had it been equipped with one, the fire would not have destroyed the store. (Because of the building's size and type of occupancy, a sprinkler system was not required he explained.)
"As far as we know, it started in the attic, in a concealed space between the ceiling and the roof and that is all open ... and that is what made is spread so fast."
The chief said he was the first firefighter inside the building. When he arrived, although he could not see the fire, he could clearly hear it. By then, it was a quarter to halfway down the store, well into the sales area.
Tait explained he first noticed the fire after a couple of electrical breakers had blown, and he went to the back area of the store to call an electrical company. He said he heard the fire "crackling" in the ceiling, opened the rear door, and saw the smoke billowing from the roof.
He said the store was immediately cleared of the six employees and 15 or so customers, and the fire department was called.
Tait doesn't have an explanation for why the fire alarm did not go off. He suspects the fire having started above the ceiling might have something to do with it.