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Fire rages through Downtown

Friday, November 30, 2012

Two downtown Dexter businesses were destroyed and a third sustained smoke damage in a fire that was first sighted around midnight Thursday and sent flames in the air that were visible for miles. A state Fire Marshal was summoned to the scene and arrived at 7:15 a.m. to investigate the cause of the blaze. Two Dexter firemen escaped serious injury while battling the blaze when the ceiling in one of the buildings fell in while they were on the lower level. The two were immediately pulled out and neither was injured.

The initial call came into the Dexter Fire Department at 12:15 a.m., according to Capt. Dave Rowe of the local department, who headed up the firefighting effort overnight in the absence of Fire Chief Don Seymore who was out of town. Seymore returned to Dexter and was on the scene by 7:30 a.m.

When firefighters reached the scene on Stoddard Street, two businesses were engulfed in flames. The Loft, a business that opened its doors in June, and a building to its west that housed a recently opened tattoo parlor were destroyed. Firefighters remained on the scene at press time Friday morning.

"It was clear early on that we might need help," Rowe said. "We called for mutualaid from Bloomfield, Essex and Butler Counties. All of them were on the scene throughout the night."

Rowe and firefighters met with Fire Marshal Butch Amon out of Jackson at the scene to aid in the investigation. Rowe declined comment when asked if arson was suspected in the fire. The presence of a Fire Marshal, however, would indicate that suspicion. It was not known Friday morning how long Amon's investigation would take.

City Administrator Mark Stidham, who was on the scene throughout the night, said flames could be seen shooting from the downtown area from Highway 60 north of town. Stidham said efforts would be underway by Friday afternoon to clear some of the debris at the Stoddard St. locations.

The Loft was housed at 8 E. Stoddard and is owned by Brian Crawford, who headed up an extensive renovation of the building in the spring of this year. The building has stood downtown since the early 1900s, housing a bank in its early days and several other businesses over the years. Crawford restored both stories of the building and hosted an open house in June. At that time, it was his goal to revitalize the downtown area by restoring several of the older establishments on Stoddard Street. The Loft was his initial effort in that process. The building and its contents were a total loss. Crawford was at the scene throughout the night as firefighters battled the blaze.

The fire is believed to have begun in the building west of The Loft -- another two-story brick building. A tattoo parlor at that location had opened just weeks ago. That building is owned by Eric Bien, but the tattoo parlor's management was reportedly in the process of purchasing the building.

The fire threatened two other establishments -- an antique shop east of The Loft and Gregory's Creations on the west side of the tattoo parlor. Gregory's, located on the corner of Stoddard and Walnut Streets, did suffer smoke damage, the extent of which was not yet determined at presstime.

It was at about 1:30 a.m. that the ceiling to the lower level of the tattoo parlor fell in as firefighters were inside. Firefighters Jeremy Freeman and Alan Horton were pulled to safety by nearby firemen.

"The two were quickly pulled out, and everybody is OK," Rowe confirmed. The two continued to fight the blaze overnight.

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