Fire destroys historic building on Tabernacle

ST. GEORGE — An abandoned building and part of St. George’s history burned nearly to the ground by a rapidly spreading fire reported on Tabernacle Street late Wednesday night.

St. George ladder truck pumps water on building to extinguish fire on Tabernacle Wednesday night, St. George, Utah, July 5, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

At approximately 10 p.m. the St. George Communications Center received multiple calls from witnesses reporting smoke coming from the old Wilkinson’s House of Lighting building located at 245 W. Tabernacle St.

Within minutes flames were seen shooting through the windows located in the front of the building and along the roof area, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said.

Upon arrival firefighters encountered a building fully engulfed in flames, along with a power pole and transformer that were actively burning. Witnesses told firefighters that the transformer blew and then caught fire minutes before, so all utilities in the building were shut off to prevent further damage or injury.

The fire moved very quickly, Stoker said, which adds to the suspicion of how it started, but that could also be due to the hot, dry conditions and the age of the building.

Firefighters attacking blaze at the rear of the building on Tabernacle Wednesday night, St. George, Utah, July 5, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“It accelerated quite rapidly, and in a matter of minutes,” Stoker said. “It went that fast.”

Fire crews were able to extinguish the active flames swiftly due to a rapid response time and enhanced water delivery capabilities made possible with the department’s new pumper/ladder combination fire engine that was delivered earlier this year.

Several buildings to the west of the burning structure were initially threatened; however, damage was limited to one vacant home that was slated for demolition and unoccupied at the time.

Police officers canvassed the area and cordoned off streets due to the heavy, acrid smoke that began drifting south and then blanketed the area for some time.

The blown electrical transformer and ensuing fire caused a power outage for residents living nearby. However, repair crews from St. George Power responded to the scene quickly and service was restored in less than one hour.

Building is destroyed after a fire breaks out and spreads rapidly on Tabernacle Wednesday night, St. George, Utah, July 5, 2017 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

St. George Mayor Jon Pike also responded to the scene, and after speaking with officials said it was very fortunate that no one was injured.

“We are light on details, but it’s always scary when something like this happens,” Pike said.

The dangerous conditions and collapsed roof prevented any firefighters or investigators from entering the building immediately after the fire, so a fire investigation will be conducted when officials return in the morning.

Several witnesses reported seeing fireworks in the area just before the fire was reported,

After speaking with the building’s owner, Stoker said that the fire may have been started by transients or others possibly staying in the abandoned building, as well as reports of fireworks in the area just before the fire was reported.

However nothing has been confirmed, Stoker said, so the cause of the blaze is undetermined at this time.

Pike also said that the structure that caught fire, along with the nearby buildings were boarded up and scheduled for demolition to make way for construction to begin on the Joule Plaza development.

Seven fire engines and three ladder trucks responded to the large fire, as well as officers from the St. George Police Department and Gold Cross Ambulance who assisted at the scene.

Firefighters and remained on scene for several hours to ensure any burning embers were fully extinguished.

“It speaks to the very intense heat and dryness these days, and the importance of being really careful with whatever we’re doing,” Pike said, “whether it’s construction, as well as of course fireworks or anything else that might cause a spark.”

No injuries were reported.

Wilkinson’s House of Lighting was founded in St. George in 1945 by Kay W. Wilkinson, with the original store located at 245 W. Tabernacle St., and after decades the company relocated at 88 E. 1160 South in St. George.

“It’s hard to see it go this way, but anytime you lose part of your history it’s unsettling,” Stoker said.

This report is based on statements from police or other emergency responders and may not contain the full scope of findings.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • ForkliftJones July 6, 2017 at 10:24 am

    I say good, that place was so junky! Now they can finally level that stinging eyesore.

  • mmsandie July 6, 2017 at 11:27 am

    They should have torn it down when wilkinsons left..its was so bad, why dudn,t the city do something about it, the city was suppose to build something next door a few years ago.

  • redrock4 July 6, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    The downtown area is a mess. There are long-abandoned homes, weeds, it’s just terrible looking. I have lived there for years and it seems like the city stopped caring at a certain point. Imagine many of the communities in the area by Entrada or Washington fields having the abandoned dumpy homes and weeds that we have in the downtown area. So few enforced standards. Build a bonfire in your back yard – no problem, who cares? The only bad thing about Wilkinson’s burning was the brutal smoke we were breathing last night.

  • ladybugavenger July 6, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    “It’s hard to see it go this way, but anytime you lose part of your history it’s unsettling,” Stoker said.

    Stoker, it appears the actual people living around there are ok with it burning. Perhaps you can clean up that entire area for them. Just because it was built in 1945 doesn’t mean it has to look like nobody has cared since 1945. The people, commenters on st George news, have spoken…clean up the downtown area.

  • DRT July 6, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Kind of sad to see this old building go like this. There was really something special about Wilkinson’s when they were in this building. Was it modern? No. Was it attractive? No.
    What it was though, was a special kind of place. It was significant in it’s individuality, it’s difference from most businesses. It seemed to have a “flavor,” if you will, all it’s own. It had character. In the same way Nisson’s had character.
    It is sad to see these old historic buildings gone. But it is the “new and improved,” that everyone seems to want.
    I’ll admit that the old Wilkinson’s was kind of hard to navigate around in, and I’d bet that for the employees it was kind of a nightmare to work there. But it seemed that every time you’d turn a corner, or go up or down a couple of steps, you’d find something special. Something decorative.
    The new Wilkinson’s store is nice, no question about it. But it is “just another store,” compared to the adventure of going into the old store.
    Ah well, “progress.”

  • utahdiablo July 6, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Hope you all enjoy progress, southern California used to be a d…* nice place to live too…complete gridlock is coming before you can even imagine, along with the costs….ahh, the greed, you can just feel it in your bones
    *Ed. ellipses

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