Michael Adamson called his fiancee, Sheri Epperson, with the bad news around noon on Saturday.
"It looks like your stuff is all gone," he said quietly into the cell phone lent to him by a Red Cross volunteer. "It's all gone. I talked to the (fire) chief and the building is gone."Adamson shook his head as he hung up and then lit a cigarette.
"She's upset. She's a musician and she had about $90,000 worth of keyboards and sound equipment and costumes in there. And all her childhood stuff, her memories," he said. "I'm going to go get her."
A four-alarm fire at Public Storage, 1555 E. 3900 South, burned for more than seven hours Saturday, taking away memories for Epperson and countless others.
Two buildings, both about 50 feet by 200 feet, were destroyed in the blaze, which was reported about 1:30 a.m., said Salt Lake County Fire Chief Don Berry. Fire officials estimate about 300 individual storage units were destroyed but don't know how many of the units were full.
No one was injured.
Three other buildings at the storage facility were not damaged.
Initial reports from firefighters suggest the fire started in the northeast corner of the last building in the facility. It appeared to be spreading simultaneously to the south and the east, Barry said.
At times, the flames were as high as 40 feet, witnesses said.
About 100 firefighters from Salt Lake County, South Salt Lake, West Valley City and Murray fought the fire from about 1:30 a.m. until about 6:30 a.m. before it was considered contained, Berry said. But at noon Saturday, hot spots under the rubble of burned wood and metal were still erupting into flames. Fire officials expected to be on the scene until at least 8 p.m. Saturday.
Narrow driveways between storage buildings and the close proximity of other structures made the fire a tough one to fight, Berry said.
"It's like a maze in there. There are hydrants, but we had to lay some long hose lines and we had some water supply problems as well," Berry said.
The fact that most storage units are generally full of cardboard boxes, paper and furniture - all items that burn hot and fast - also didn't help, he said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Initially, fire officials thought it may have a suspicious origin, but were undecided Saturday afternoon, Salt Lake County Fire spokesman Jay Ziolkowski said.
No damage estimates can be made until after facility managers contact all of their customers, Ziolkowski said.
About 100 people from nearby residences, including an apartment complex and a retirement center, were evacuated for several hours during the blaze. Red Cross volunteers set a up a temporary shelter at a nearby church, but it didn't get used. Residents sat for several hours on a UTA bus called in by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's office.
Firefighters also evacuated about 40 dogs from the Forest Hills Pet Hospital on Highland Drive. The hospital backs up to one of the storage buildings that was engulfed in flames. Only about three feet separates them.
"My wife and I started taking the dogs out of the back to buildings and bringing them up here, but the smoke got pretty heavy," veterinarian Charles Gold said. "(The dogs) were bouncing around pretty good with the excitement, but other than that they were okay. None of them were hurt."
Gold's three clinic buildings suffered some smoke damage and the kennel building closest to the fire appears to have some fire damage, he said.
"But all that can be fixed," he said.
For O.D. and Sue Williams, who rented a 10 foot by 15 foot unit here about 15 years ago, the fire was in one sense not much of a surprise.
"I said when we moved in here this is a large wooden structure that would go up just like that," O.D. Williams said with a flick of his wrist. "For (Sue) it's an `I told you so.' She's been saying we ought to get out of here and get into a different storage place for years."
Ironically, the one thing the couple had in storage that was of value - some 50 pounds of rare, agate from India - won't be damaged by the fire, but will most likely be unrecoverable once backhoes and clean-up crews get to work.
The Williams' hobby is lapidary work and they planned to make jewelry out of the red, green and white rocks. The couple also lost some business records.
"Oh well, there's nothing you can do," Sue Williams said shrugging. "Some of those papers were very important for our business. But at least now I won't have to clean the place out."