Fire destroys two WI warehouses

January 7 – SUPERIOR – Two vacant buildings were destroyed by fire Thursday morning in the North End neighborhood.

Senior firefighters received the call at 5:50 a.m. and 13 firefighters on leave also responded at 6:10 a.m., Fire Chief Scott Gordon said in a statement. The fire quickly consumed the Sivertson warehouse at 1507 N. First St. and spread to the Bayside warehouse and the Twohy Mercantile Building next door at 1515 N. First St.

Both buildings are a complete loss. At 1:30 p.m., only four corners of the Sivertson building were standing and firefighters were still fighting the fire in the basement of the Bayside warehouse. Ashes from the fire could be seen up to St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church on East Fourth Street.

No injuries or deaths were reported. The teams had to stay on site all day to manage the buildings.

At 8:45 a.m., the temperature was 10 degrees below zero, with a wind chill 22 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service of Duluth. Conditions are not ideal for fighting a fire, Gordon said at a press conference.

“It’s very dangerous to fight fires in cold weather and it’s magnified when buildings are this big,” he said.

Slips, falls and frostbite pose the greatest threat to firefighters in freezing conditions due to the speed at which water turns to ice, he said.

Senior Mayor Jim Paine said he was, above all, grateful that there had been no loss of life or injuries.

“However, it is a terrible tragedy for the city. These buildings were of both historical and architectural significance to our community, and they both had great potential for new life. And so it is a loss for our past and our future, ”Paine said.

The Sivertson warehouse, in particular, was almost turnkey for development. The mayor said the buildings help tell the story of Superior as a riverside town.

“So losing it is a real tragedy, and it sets back a lot of our goals for the region. It won’t stop us. We will rebuild in this area. There are still a lot of opportunities here. But part of the Superior’s story lost today, ”Paine said.

The fire department received two new aerial-scale trucks in late November that it used for the first time to respond to Thursday’s blaze. Gordon said their debut went “very well”.

The ministry also built on lessons learned from a series of major fires in 2018 at Cooper Elementary School, the Husky Refinery and the Globe Grain Elevator.

“This is not a path in which we want to improve by experience. However, it would be foolish not to learn from our experience,” Gordon said.

The warehouse fire most closely resembled a grain elevator fire, he said, due to the large footprint and height of the structures, as well as the large lumber inside .

Firefighters first worked to prevent the blaze from spreading to the second warehouse.

“It was Tactic # 1… it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t going to happen,” Gordon said. “We didn’t want to write off that building, but once both buildings burned down at the same time, there was no way we would have enough staff, enough manpower, enough water to go there. ‘turn off at this point. “

The Blatnik Bridge to and from Superior was closed at 6:30 a.m. to protect the stage and reopened at 7:32 a.m., according to Gordon.

Stefan Nowaq was staying in a commercial building opposite the warehouses after the fire broke out.

“You could hear a boom and a boom in the walls going in, then all of a sudden you have two big booms,” he said.

He smelled the smoke and thought the store was on fire, then saw firefighters outside.

“I took a video of this collapsing building (the Sivertson warehouse), and I turned around, saw smoke coming out of the third floor of this building (Bayside Warehouse and Twohy Mercantile Building So I thought we were going to lose both of them, ”Nowaq said.

He and another man who remained there started their cars and evacuated to a location about two blocks away.

“It’s not a way to get up in the morning, it isn’t,” he said from the driver’s seat.

Once a peach

The four-story Sivertson building, 1507 N. First St., is listed for sale on the Follmer Commercial Real Estate website for $ 795,000. The 48,000 square foot warehouse was built in 1890 and once housed the Lake Superior Fish Co.

Mitch Holmes, owner of Duluth / Superior Concrete Services LLC, owner of the Sivertson Building, said Thursday afternoon they had “lost everything” in the blaze. He was not available for further comment.

For over 30 years the building was owned by the Siverston family, who operated Sivertson Fisheries and a ferry service connecting Grand Portage and Isle Royale National Park from the building.

Stuart Sivertson, 80, of Duluth, the former president of the fishery, had just learned of his daughter’s fire when the News Tribune contacted him by phone Thursday morning.

“It’s just a feeling of sadness, I guess,” Sivertson said. “Because this vessel was just a lifeline for our family business and for a number of other fishermen. “

Sivertson came from a fishing family who began fishing along the north coast and Isle Royale in the 1890s, when his grandfather and great uncles immigrated from Norway.

The fishery has moved to several locations in Duluth, including 366 Lake Ave. in Canal Park, but needed more space to freeze all the smelt they were fishing in the late 1960s.

“We were fishing several million pounds of smelt a year at that time,” Sivertson said.

After going to college and working as an industrial engineer in the East, Sivertson’s father asked him in 1967 to return to the area and help with the family business. Sivertson was responsible for finding a new location and securing funding for the building and equipment.

“We were desperate to find a place. We had been looking since 1967 to find a place,” Sivertson said. “Here was that perfect spot right by the water where we could land the smelt.”

So in 1974 the family bought the warehouse, brought in their straightening machines, fitted the building with 4,000 feet of cold storage that dropped to 40 degrees below zero, compressors that could freeze 5,000 pounds. of fish per hour and rebuilt the wharf with white pine. wood salvaged from a nearby grain silo.

The fishery would then ship 25-pound cartons of smelt across the United States and even some overseas destinations like Japan and France, Sivertson said.

But the Lake Superior smelt population plummeted a few years later.

“The building was somewhat of the last vestige of when Duluth was a major commercial fishing ground,” Sivertson said.

The family continued to use the building and it housed the staff offices of their Grand Portage Isle Royale Transportation Lines, a ferry service between Grand Portage and Lake Superior Island National Park.

And they sold the fishery to a group of men who operated it as the Lake Superior Fish Co., using the cold store to keep trout caught in Canadian lakes.

Eventually, the building would be sold to Duluth / Superior Concrete Services LLC and would be put back on the market in spring 2016.

The building “where the sail meets the rail” meets fire

The Bayside Warehouse and the Twohy Mercantile Building are owned by Dr. Eric Ringsred, according to Douglas County property records. Ringsred is the former owner of the Pastoret Terrace in downtown Duluth, which once housed the Kozy Bar and Apartments.

His son, Miles Ringsred, told the News Tribune that Eric felt “blue” at the news of the fire.

In 2019, the National Park Service designated the building as a protected historic resource, a key step in listing the building on the National Register of Historic Places, and Eric had hoped to find a developer for the building. The pandemic had put those plans on hold, but Miles said they were resuming those conversations.

“We were looking to get the ball rolling for this New Year and that was apparently not going to happen,” Miles said.

“(The building is going) to have to be bulldozed,” he said.

Built in 1894, the Roman Revival style warehouse housed the Twohy Mercantile Co., Superior’s largest grocery wholesaler. It was an important part of the “multi-node” wholesale industry of the 1890s and early 1900s which used the confluence of sea, rail and road transportation to deliver goods throughout the Upper Midwest. . The Twohy Building was cited in a 1907 Superior Evening Telegram article as the catalyst for the slogan “where sail meets rail” for the region.

The architect of the building, Oliver Traphagen, was the most prominent architect in the twin ports of Duluth and Superior. Of its surviving buildings, 12 have been individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The builder, Butler Brothers Construction of St. Paul, was a leading construction company in the United States from 1890 to 1915. It completed some of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects, including the Duluth Sea Canal, as well as 13 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Miles said Eric bought the building in the mid to late 90s to save it from demolition.

In the years that followed, it was mainly used for storage.

The late collector Doug Moen, a longtime friend of Eric, used the building to store his collection of vintage items. In 2013, Moen fell 8 feet into an elevator shaft in the building while moving a sofa and died of his injuries in hospital later that night.

His collection was still in the building during Thursday’s fire and Miles said he expected everything to be destroyed. It included “beautiful old wooden doors” salvaged from a renovation on Greysolon Plaza in downtown Duluth, a 1960s cigarette dispenser and other antiques.

Thursday’s fire is not the first for the property.

A fire in an annex building in the early 2000s killed Pepperoni, the Ringsred’s pet Japanese snow monkey. The monkey was staying with a caretaker on the property when a stove or oven caused a fire, Miles said.

Miles said Pepperoni came from a pizzeria in Portland, Oregon called the Organ Grinder where “monkeys were kind of a theme,” then his father finally adopted him in the mid-1990s, c That is, around the time he also acquired the Bayside Warehouse.

This is a developing story; come back for more updates.


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