Firefighters battle the blaze at the former Al's TV warehouse. Grand Meadow firefighters are on the left and Spring Valley firefighters on the right. (Photo by Kevin Beck)
Firefighters battle the blaze at the former Al's TV warehouse. Grand Meadow firefighters are on the left and Spring Valley firefighters on the right. (Photo by Kevin Beck)
A fire early Sunday morning destroyed the warehouse building most recently used by Al's TV and Appliance in downtown Spring Valley.

The building, now owned by First National Bank, was a total loss as departments from Spring Valley and three neighboring communities were on the scene for more than five hours. The building housed the Spring Valley Fire Department until 1971.

Spring Valley firefighters got the call at 3:15 a.m. and were on the scene within minutes, but Assistant Fire Chief Chris Czapiewski said when they arrived, he could see the fire was well developed in the roof structure of the building. Because of the location of the fire, Czapiewski decided that the main concern was not to save the building, but rather to protect the adjoining buildings so the entire block didn't burn down.

"My main concern was protecting the exposures (other buildings) because it wasn't worth risking people's lives to go in there," he said.

Rather than enter the building and try to fight the fire from below, a dangerous situation for the firefighters, they ended up ventilating the structure to get it set up to burn in a manner that allowed them to save the other buildings. Since it was a block building, this helped the fire and heat to remain contained to that structure, said Czapiewski.

Soon, the department called in Grand Meadow for backup to make sure the buildings on all three sides were protected. Later, Stewartville was called in because that department had an aerial unit to help push water on top. The aerial unit was set up on the north side to make sure the firefighters on the ground didn't push the fire into the T.D. Fetterly Construction Co. building, which abutted the warehouse. Later, Wykoff was called in to provide more assistance on the ground as conditions were tough with the bitter cold and ice forming on the ground as the water froze.

"It could have been bad in that area with all the buildings so close together," said Czapiewski.

The temperature was 15 degrees below zero with winds of more than 10 miles an hour. The wind didn't hamper firefighters much, as the scene was somewhat protected, said firefighter Kevin Beck, but the cold was difficult. Although the freezing water made conditions treacherous, there were no injuries.

Workers from the city of Spring Valley were called in to sand the area around the building to help firefighters gain better traction during their efforts.

A crew from Public Utilities was also called in to disconnect the electricity to the building and take down some other lines that were interfering with the effort. Czapiewski added that they were also a big help in identifying different hydrants for the other departments not familiar with the city and making sure the pumps were all up and running.

O'Connell Excavating was also on the scene to help tear down the front of the building. In the process, workers found the original cement block that identified the building as a former fire station.

The block remained intact and was removed later and transferred to the current fire station. Fire Chief Troy Lange said the department will try to incorporate the historical sign into the new station at a later date.

The state fire marshal was on the scene Sunday morning to investigate the cause of the fire. The fire started in the middle of the building in the ceiling area. Czapiewski said they may never be able to determine the exact cause of the fire. There was no gas running to the building, but there was electricity, and a short is one possible speculation.

The building was empty, except for a very few used appliances. The property was listed for sale by First National Bank and hadn't been used since Al's TV closed about a year ago.

Spring Valley firefighters left the scene about 8:30 a.m., when they went back to the station to thaw out their equipment and clean up. However, the fire flared up again about 10:30 a.m. in one corner of the building and they went back to the scene for about half an hour.

Although the city lost a building, Czapiewski felt the effort was a success as no other structures were damaged and no one was injured.

"I think everything went fairly well," he said. "It could have been worse. We had cold weather to deal with and the other departments really helped us out."