SILVERTON – Two historic buildings that housed a saloon and an antique store burned Wednesday in the 1300 block of Greene Street in Silverton.
No one was injured in the fire, which was called in at 7:22 a.m., said Gilbert Archuleta, chief of the Silverton Fire Department.
The fire apparently started in the back of the Pride of the West saloon near the kitchen, he said, but the cause remained under investigation.
A column of smoke rose over the mountain town for several hours as firefighters sought to contain the fire to the twin buildings, which also house Adelaide’s Antiques.
Silverton Brewery, which is connected to the antique shop, sustained smoke and water damage.
Archuleta called it a “stubborn” fire that raged for about five hours.
During that time, firefighters used about 400,000 gallons of water – or half the town’s water supply, he said.
Paul Zimmerman, a Silverton firefighter and owner of The Pickle Barrel restaurant, also on Greene Street, said he watched the fire as he was getting his daughter ready for school.
A town official said it was actually his daughter who first saw the fire, and Zimmerman was first to call 911.
The town’s fire department responded and called for backup from Durango Fire & Rescue Authority and the town of Ouray.
Durango sent two units, including a ladder truck, to fight the fire. Ouray also sent a ladder truck, and even a town utility truck was being used to hoist up firefighters and hoses.
The saloon is owned by Greg Custer and is housed in the historic Billy Cole Building, built in 1901 by Billy Cole. The antique shop is owned by Greg Swanson and his wife, Pam.
Both buildings look the same and share a common wall. Fritz Hoffmann built the north half that houses the antique store.
Archuleta said, “By the time we were called out, the smoke was already pouring out the front of the building, and the back side by the alley was engulfed by flames.”
The fire climbed to the second floor and moved through voids in the ceiling to the second building, he said. The blaze then pushed its way to the front of both 95-foot-long, 25-foot-wide buildings.
The brick buildings kept the fire contained like an oven and prevented firefighters from accessing the flames, Archuleta said.
Both upper floors are a total loss, he said. The lower floors were “pretty much destroyed from water,” he said.
The second story above the bar contains several apartments that have been used to house employees during the busy summer season. The living quarters were empty at the time of the fire.
Firefighters cut holes in the roofs of the buildings, including the brewery, to ventilate smoke and spray water.
Town planner Dave Michaelson was crushed to see such an iconic symbol of Silverton’s history burn.
“This is one of the most wonderful buildings in town. It just breaks my heart,” he said.
Michaelson said that because of the way the building is constructed, the roof forms a critical support. If it had collapsed, the walls likely would have gone, too, he said.
Archuleta said the outer shell of the building appears intact.
“I think structurally, they’re not in too bad of shape,” he said.
This tiny mining town 50 miles north of Durango is heavily dependent on the summer tourism season. With a year-round population of only 550, every job is important.
The Pride of the West was open year-round and was a local’s favorite, Michaelson said.
“We were all ready to have a great summer,” he said. “Everyone’s going to feel this for a while.”
Kate Harvie, who owns Silverton Brewery with her husband, Joel, shared that sentiment.
“The whole town is a historic district, so the loss of any building is devastating to our history,” she said.
The couple were discussing brewing a smoky ale to commemorate the fire.
The Colorado Historical Society planned to send a representative to Silverton today to assess the damage and make the case for preserving the building, said David Singer, a local historic-preservation consultant.
“They are two of the finest-crafted buildings that we have in town,” he said. “It’s at the core of our historic overlay district.”
Zimmerman said the town’s fire department is fairly well-equipped for its size, giving it the capacity to respond swiftly when emergencies such as these arise.
“Thank God it doesn’t happen a lot,” he said.
Though the town has a fire truck, it doesn’t have a ladder truck, which was needed to access the roof with hoses. One witness said it looked like the fire department was fighting the blaze with garden hoses until ladder trucks arrived.
Archuleta said the town considered buying a ladder truck about eight years ago, but too many residents chalked it up as a “toy” for the fire department.
“We’re definitely going to be asking for a ladder truck again,” he said.
Residents said Silverton has been fortunate to avoid any catastrophic fires in its long history, though individual buildings have succumbed.
The last major fire was in 1992, when the Town Hall burned.
The space occupied by the Pride of the West originally was constructed as a saloon, though various businesses have come and gone over the years. But Pride of the West has hung on for more than 20 years.
The locale also attracted an occasional celebrity. On the wall hung a photo of snowboarder Shaun White, who spent time at the watering hole while we was training at Silverton Mountain for his successful Olympic Gold Medal bid in 2010.
Janice Sanders, owner of Mountain Calling, a business in the same block on Greene Street, said a fire such as this affects everyone in such a small town.
“We just don’t have the population to support it – to get it back together,” she said.
Archuleta thanked the Durango and Ouray fire departments.
“Without them, we probably would have lost three more buildings,” he said. “The whole coordination thing went good.”
The fire department will begin investigating the cause today.