Portales fire guts downtown warehouse, Dollar General

By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer

A fire with an unknown cause destroyed two buildings on Avenue C and led to the evacuation of nearby homes and businesses Friday.

No injuries were reported.

The flames burned a warehouse at Trader Horn’s True Value and Dollar General Store next door, and people were evacuated after the blaze reignited due to 40 mph winds. Some power lines burned, but gas and electricity to the burning buildings had already been cut.

The fire was extinguished about 5 p.m.

Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said it appeared the fire started in the attic of the warehouse.

Firefighters were called to the warehouse shortly before 11 a.m. after a Trader Horn employee saw smoke coming from the building. The hardware store is across the street from the warehouse.

Officials decided to evacuate people about 11:30 a.m. when it looked like the buildings would be destroyed, Berry said.

Amy Charley and her daughters, Chelsea and Shelby Silversmith, live in the South Avenue B block behind the burned buildings. Charley said the power went out around 9:30 or 10 a.m., and police later asked them to evacuate.

“The officer said, ‘You’re not in danger, and your house is not going to catch on fire. We just wanted to evacuate the houses, because the store is on fire,’” Charley said.

When they left the house, there was no smoke coming from the building. Thirty minutes later, when Charley drove back by, the building was in flames.

Charley’s neighbor, Manuelita Dominguez, has arthritis, and she was very scared.

“I was hoping there was no one in the store that got hurt; I panicked,” Dominguez said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The fire department did a real good job.”

Beverly Bennett, owner of United Country Real Estate across the street from Dollar General, said she was impressed with the fire department’s work.

“The fire department told me they couldn’t figure out where the fire was; they could see the smoke and stuff,” Bennett said. “I’m just finally glad they stood between us and the burning building.”

Firefighters from Dora, Arch, Clovis and Elida assisted Portales.

Berry said emergency responders had to move vehicles around people trying to get a better look.

“They were parking in areas we were trying to get through, and all that additional traffic made it hard for us to fight the fire,” Berry said.

The residents were able to return to their homes at 3:30 p.m., and the business owners were allowed back 30 minutes later.

Max Merrick, who owned both burned buildings and leased one to Dollar General Corp., said he expected the property to be a total loss.

“We contacted the insurance company and we’ll see where to go from there,” he said.