Two historic buildings in downtown Williams Lake have been destroyed by a fire that broke out in the early morning Friday, Sept. 20.
Fire crews were called at about 5:30 a.m. to the location of Diamonds and Dust Entertainment Lounge on Oliver Street, which has been the location of multiple previous arson attempts in the last year.
By 6 a.m. the building was fully engulfed and the roof of the building had collapsed onto the sidewalk. A team of about 25 firefighters from the Williams Lake Fire Department battled the fire hard, hitting it with water from several fronts, in an attempt to stop the blaze from spreading.
Deputy Fire Chief Rob Warnock of the WLFD told the Tribune at about 6:15 a.m. no one was injured in the blaze.
Thick black smoke continued to billow from the building as residents made their way to work Friday morning. Firefighters extended their taped off section to close off Mackenzie Avenue at the foot of Oliver Street just after 9 a.m. when it became evident that the fire was about to spread to New World Coffee and Tea House next door.
By 9:30 a.m. flames could be seen shooting out of the roof structure at the back of the New World as a excavator arrived on scene and tore down the beloved coffee shop to save the others, which included the barber shop, a tattoo parlor, cell phone repair shop and Ming’s Palace Chinese restaurant.
By 10:30 a.m. members of the Wildwood and 150 Mile Volunteer Fire Departments arrived to assist with the structure fires and an air quality advisory was issued due to the thick smoke over the city.
The Tribune caught up with New World Coffee and Tea House owner Sue Lachance on scene, who was coming to grips with the loss.
“We’re sad, but everyone’s safe and that’s the main thing,” said Lachance, who owns the popular shop with her partner Brice O’Neill. “The fire department has been amazing. They did everything they could. They pressurized our building. It looked really positive for a bit … but unfortunately the fire breached the walls.”
The building was built in the late 1930s by the Borkowski brothers, Lachance said, noting the original building was also built on to a couple more times after that.
“It’s had a long, long history of different businesses being in there,” she said.
Lachance and O’Neill completely renovated the building before opening New World Coffee and Tea House and while doing so found many historical treasures that they displayed in the café which were lost in the fire.
“Whenever an historic building like this goes it is always sad because a piece of history goes with it.”
As Lachance spoke, many friends and customers offered their condolences, adding how much they loved the coffee shop.
Lachance told the Tribune they plan to rebuild.
Williams Lake Fire Chief Erick Peterson told the Tribune when they arrived on scene at 5:30 a.m. they observed smoke and flames coming from the roof at the front of Diamonds and Dust.
Peterson said he cannot speculate at this point the cause of the fire, however, residents can expect that section of Oliver Street to be closed for a few days while fire investigators secure and examine evidence to determine the cause.
Williams Lake RCMP Insp. Jeff Pelley, officer in charge of the detachment, said the RCMP are working with the WLFD to investigate the fire.
Peterson confirmed Diamonds and Dust and New World are complete losses, while the barber shop suffered severe water damage, along with the rest of the buildings downhill of the fire.
“All these buildings are connected in one way or another,” he said of the historic block.
Even Caribou Ski Source for Sports, he said, received water damage due to the amount of water they had to use to protect the building from the fire.
Peterson wanted to thank all emergency responders who assisted at the scene, including the Wildwood and 150 Mile fire departments, EHS and RCMP.