Photo by George Lauby
Smoldering at 8 a.m.
Mopping up, noon
Officials suspect a fire was deliberately set around midnight at an abandoned warehouse at 7th and Poplar in North Platte.
The building, which stood at the north end of the Poplar St. overpass, was burnt to the foundation.
Firefighters answered the call at about 12:30 a.m., Fire Marshall George Lewis said. A crew of 10 firemen and seven volunteers fought the blaze for nearly an hour before they got it contained, and it took them another two hours to put it out, a North Platte Battalion Chief told the Bulletin. By then most of the building was gone.
The building was partially demolished during the summer. It is on railroad property and is the former home of Pioneer Chemicals. It has not been used in years.
Officials have not pinpointed the exact ignition point of the fire, but have ruled out electricity and gas as possible causes. Utility lines were disconnected a long time ago, Lewis. No was there any lightning in the area, the National Weather Service said.
Lewis said it was incendiary, possibly arson, and the investigation is continuing.
Heavy timbers in the building burned hot and made the fire difficult to put out. Firefighters focused on containment, Lewis said.
There was little collateral damage. A loading dock at a nearby storage building was partially burned, but the building itself appeared to be okay, Lewis said.
Embers smoldered past daylight and crews were still mopping up at midday Friday.
The warehouse held historical interest. It was built as a Union Pacific frieght storage building and stood on the east side of North Platte's train depot, retired firefighter Ray Maxwell told the Bulletin.
Earl Carstensen bought the building decades ago and moved it to Seventh and Poplar, where he ran Pioneer Chemical, selling chemicals for agricultural and commercial applications.
Maxwell said there was another fire in the building in the 1950s, during the winter. He was one of the firefighters.
A faulty heater set fire in the office on the east end of the warehouse, Maxwell said. Firefighters battled bitter cold temperatures for two hours and saved most of the building. The office was damaged but it was rebuilt. The business continued.
Earl's son Tom operated the business through the 1990s, according to reports in the Bulletin's news archives.
In 2000, the city of North Platte claimed eminent domain the land beneath Pioneer Chemical to make way for the Poplar Street viaduct.
The viaduct cut off most of the access to the chemical company. Semi-trucks could no longer load and unload next to the warehouse, which Carstensen said was essential to his business.
The city offered Carstensen $18,750 for his building, but Cartensen said that was "ridiculously low" and he sued for more.
North Platte Lumber and Supply, then located on Poplar Street, was awarded $200,000 and relocated. Wilkinson Development, owner of a building on the southwest corner of Front and Poplar, was awarded $20,200.
In court, the city argued that Pioneer continued to do business at the location even though access was lost.
Carstensen said he also had moving expenses and was forced to re-label products to a new address.
George Vinton, Carstensenís attorney, said trucks were forced to violate the cityís own statutes and truck safety standards by backing down Seventh Street.
In 2004, District Judge Donald Rowlands ruled against Carstensen, limiting his ability to sue for loss of access. Rowlands said that since Carstensen was leasing the land from Union Pacific Railroad, only UP could collect for damage.
Carstensen settled for $18,750 plus interest. Then he moved to Omaha, the Bulletin reported.
This article was updated Friday afternoon with historical perspective. -Editor.