Toxic smoke billowed through a West Valley shopping center as a three-alarm fire swept through a video store Thursday night, burning an estimated 11,000 videotapes and prompting the evacuation of the store and a nearby restaurant.
There were no injuries in the blaze, which started shortly before 10 p.m. at Rocky Mountain Video, 2222 W. 3500 South. Preliminary damage estimates range from $200,000 to $250,000.About 50 firefighters from West Valley City, South Salt Lake and Salt Lake County had the fire under control in about 35 minutes, said West Valley Fire Marshal John Blundell.
Blundell had no estimate of the damages to the video store other than "extensive." There were concerns about the Animal Kingdom pet store, where an unknown number of exotic pets were threatened by the blaze and the toxic fumes produced by the plastic videotapes burning next door.
Firefighters didn't evacuate the animals, which included several species of tropical lizards and birds. "Cold temperatures may be as bad on the animals as smoke," Blundell said.
But West Valley Battalion Chief Moose Barkdull said that even though the heavy, wet snowfall slowed the firefighters' response time, they had the fire knocked down before it could get to the pet store.
Friday morning, pet store owner Ray Fisher said there was less damage than he expected. "We thought the birds would be the first to go, but they did real well." Air pumps on aquariums piped smoke into tank water killing some fish, and several snakes and lizards that were in cages on top shelves were killed by the smoke, "but everything else looks pretty good," Fisher said.
An attorney's office and a tanning parlor, which were not open when the fire started, also were damaged, Blundell said.
After the fire was under control, Denny's Restaurant personnel - who with customers were evacuated because the toxic smoke was pouring across the parking lot that separates the restaurant from the burning store - went back inside and brewed coffee and made hot chocolate for the firefighters and rescue crews.
Rocky Mountain Video owner Everett Herbert said he was in his office when he smelled smoke. He went outside and saw flames on two corners of the building and then told an employee to call 911.
"I thought it was just a little fire," Herbert said. "I started throwing snowballs on it."
Kearns High School student Mike Aguilar said he had just walked into the store to return a videotape when someone told him he'd have to leave because the building was on fire.
"I helped him (Herbert) throw snow," Aguilar said.
Blundell said he didn't know how many people were evacuated from Denny's, but Aguilar said he counted at least 25.
The fire, which may have started in the building's attic or in unused areas of the shopping center structure, spread quickly through the video store, Blundell said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Herbert said he had 11,000 rental tapes and 500 tapes for retail sale in the store.