(related front page story)
by Rick Langenberg:
Less than a week after celebrating 120 years of history in Victor during Gold Rush Days, the 1890s mining town almost became history itself.
In a bout of a bad luck, a lightning struck led to a devastating fire that scorched and gutted the Miners Union Hall on Fourth Street downtown, originally constructed in 1899, and threatened several other structures. This also prompted a boil order and warning for local residents not to drink or use the city’s water for a temporary period, until untreated H2O can get flushed through the water system. In essence, the city exhausted a huge amount of its water supply in an effort to battle the fire.
Firefighters from several local agencies, including Colorado Springs, fought the fire for at least four hours on Saturday afternoon and evening. They succeeded in containing the fire to the historic building, but some nearby businesses were evacuated. In addition, many local streets in the downtown core were closed off until 8 p.m. “This was really a major fire,” said Victor Mayor Buck Hakes. “The local fire departments did an outstanding job.” The mayor credits the firefighters for saving adjacent structures and for limiting any significant damage to the former union hall building.
Luckily, no one was hurt from the devastating fire. Several people, including the building owner, were inside the structure when the blaze erupted, and got out in time. According to facebook posts, the building owner, Barbara McMillan of Denver, was conducting a tour of the structure with a group of soccer camp kids, who noticed the upper part of the building on fire.
But many local residents are grieving over the potential loss of a historic building that had strong ties to the district’s past, especially during the mining labor wars of 1903-1904. The former union hall was originally the home of the Western Federation of Miners, Local No. 32. By 1902, they had over 1,000 members and were the largest local chapter of any union in Colorado. Their building on Fourth Street was dedicated in March, 1901 and had an auditorium and offices for the union upstairs and retail shops were rented out downstairs. The building is best remembered for the shoot-out that happened on June 6, 1904 when the Colorado National Guard fired on striking miners taking refuge inside. Four men were shot, and the building still has at least nine bullets holes in it from the historic attack. The building was donated to the Victor School District in the 1920s who owned it until 1969. It has had several different private owners since then. After World War II there was a movie theater and a restaurant there, but the building was abandoned in the 1970s and used briefly again in the 1980s as a restaurant. As of 2005, the Victor Heritage Society had applied for a grant from the Colorado Historical Society to replace the failing roof. The current owner had just completed major renovations and was about to open an antique store there.
In more recent years, the building also hosted a variety of social and civic activities. “It was an amazing building,” admitted Hakes, who even remembers a gymnasium and running track in the upstairs area. “I watched the fire all afternoon,” said resident Shawn Frizzell, during an interview aired on KRDO. “It’s sad to lose the history. It was a very important building.” “Everyone is really sad about the building. It was a major part of the history of Victor,” added Hakes.
Hakes said structural engineers and preservation architects plan to evaluate the structure to see if it can be saved. “It is really out of our hands now,” related the mayor.According to Lt. Marc Porcelli of the Teller County Sheriff’s Office, firefighters and emergency responders tried to contain the fire to the former mining hall structure. However, he believes that adjacent structures may have incurred some smoke damage. “It was smoking pretty good for a couple of hours,” he added. The cause of the fire was attributed to a lighting strike. The district got nailed by a huge strike around 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Residents recalled a huge bombardment of lighting, just 20 minutes before the union hall was engulfed in flames.
The fire was completely contained by Saturday evening, and businesses returned to a semi-normal state. However, some firefighters manned the scene to monitor any hot smoldering particles that may recharge. On late morning Monday, firefighters were finally able to depart from the former union hall site, according to local reports. In the wake of the fire, city officials have issued a boil order for residents of Victor and Goldfield. The order is in place due to the fact that untreated water ran from the Bison Reservoir through the water system while fire crews fought the fire. According to the mayor, the water pressure got extremely low and raw water had to be discharged from the reservoir into the system without being treated.
The order is in place as a precaution until the untreated water can be flushed through the system. Residents are advised not to brush their teeth or drink the untreated H2O. According to Hakes, the order could be lifted by Tuesday evening.The mayor noted that so much water was used to fight the fire that a raw, unfilterered supply was pumped into the city’s system.
However, several businesses and agencies in the area have come to the assistance of the town of Victor. The Wal-Mart store in Woodland Park and the Teller County Office of Emergency Management have donated bottled water. It can be picked at the fire department. The devastating blaze marks the most significant fire to strike downtown Victor in more than 10 years. It also represented a huge property loss for the McMillan, who had invested $400,000 into a new antiques business inside the historic building. She also wanted to restore the building.
The fire also is a huge blow to the community and its unprecedented economic resurgence. Victor last spring gained much prominence when it received official designation by the state as an official Main Street town, opening the door for more grant opportunities and national publicity. On the upside, Hakes said Main Street officials will work with the property owners and the town in lieu of the latest disaster. City Administrator Debra Downs believes Victor’s partnership with the Main Street program will serve as a big help. Even if the building is taken down, efforts could be made to maintain the historic façade.