Clean up continues after downtown Portage building fire

Two adjacent buildings suffered smoke damage
Clean up continues after downtown Portage building fire

Fire investigators are still examining the scene of a major fire that burned a building in downtown Portage for hours on Sunday.

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The fire broke out in a building on the corner of Dewitt and Cook streets, right in the heart of the city’s downtown, and ripped through a bridal dress shop and an upstairs apartment. It burned for more than four hours before being extinguished later Sunday night.

Cleanup efforts were continuing on Monday as crews work to clean up fire, smoke and water damage from the blaze. The building is considered a total loss. Two adjacent buildings did suffer smoke damage.

But with the fire extinguished, now some are wonder what took so long to put the fire out.

As the building smoldered on Sunday night, the emotions of the building’s main tenant, Tara Norland, erupted. She expressed some frustrations.

“My mom called 911, but we were in Marquette County. We got the dispatch center there. She said, ‘We can’t transfer you. You need to have your son call 911.’ That wasted a lot of time when a firefighter could’ve come up here then and it’s still burning,” she said.

Norland said on Monday that she’s still upset a day later as she saw the damage up close.

The Marquette County Sheriff’s Office said that there was an equipment glitch, but a dispatcher wrote down the information and called to the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. They said that didn’t take too much time.

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Portage Fire Chief Clayton Simonson said that his crew got help from five other departments.

“So, it took us, I believe, 3 to 5 minutes to get here after the alarm went off. So, it may take another minute to make that call down here,” Simonson said.

Firefighters tried to keep the blaze from spreading to other downtown buildings.

“But, it just kept building and spreading up into the attack area to the point where it drove the guys with the heat and smoke, it drove them out of the area,” Simonson said. “And I actually pulled them because the roof was getting soft. And in fear of collapse, I had the guys come out and we switched to a defensive attack.”

The fire was finally out at 9 p.m.

Although initially frustrated by the time it took, Norland said she is thankful for the firefighters work.

“The firefighters were here, risking their lives to save my things and my pets, and I can only be grateful for that,” she said.

Officials with the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office said that they’re working to fix that technical glitch with the 911 system so the delay, however slight, doesn’t happen again.