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Fire destroys Old Flour Mill, neighboring business

CLOVIS — More than a century ago, the Golden West Flour Mill stood tall and proud, one of many users of the railroad economy that helped establish the still-young city of Clovis.

The building was no more Sunday morning, reduced to a city block of burned rubble by a fire that roared into the evening and also claimed a small local business.

There was no cause determined for the fire Sunday morning, and Chief Mike Nolen said neither the department nor the state fire marshal’s office were in the position to rule anything out — including any connections with the July 21 fire at the former Teambuilders facility at 13th and Mitchell.

“Either/or fire could be accidental, either/or fire could be related, either/or fire could be arson,” Nolen said. “At this point, we can rule absolutely nothing out. Hopefully we can come up with some answers that rule out some of those possibilities.”

The fire, which quickly grew to a mammoth blaze just before 3 p.m., was knocked out around 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Fire crews did come back at 11:25 p.m. when it reignited, Nolen said, and a crew knocked it down again after two hours.

Smoke blanketed the downtown Clovis area throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, and smoke was still coming off what remained late Sunday morning.

There were no known deaths or injuries associated with the blaze, which destroyed the neighboring Mary’s Garage Sale store. Nolen said the building was insured but the property inside was not. Maria Marquez has operated the business for seven years, after she had home garage sales so often the city required her to find a commercial location.

Daughter Gisell Aguirre, who acted as an interpreter between Marquez and The News, said her mother was placing merchandise outside as she always did to draw customers when she saw smoke coming from the top of the mill building.

“In the time it took for her to run in, make the call (to 911) and come out, you could already see the building was engulfed,” Aguirre said. “That was about two or three minutes.”

She had enough time to move her personal vehicle from the alley between her store and the mill and drive it across the street. By that point, first responders told her she couldn’t go back in for her purse or other belongings.

She hasn’t been back in the store since — a firefighter went in to grab her purse, which had somehow survived — but her daughter said she still goes by a few times daily because it gives her a slight amount of comfort in a devastating time.

“We’re like everybody else,” Aguirre said. “We can only see from the yellow line.”

Marquez said she greatly appreciated the outpouring of support from the community, including fundraising efforts by people who knew nothing about her other than the fact she owned a store.

Nolen said the department was fortunate the building came down on itself instead of falling to any side. The flames burned so hot at one point Saturday the front ends of trucks and cars roughly 50 feet away melted.

Four vehicles from the neighboring Honest D’s Auto Sales took various heat damage. Owner David Ashcraft said the damage was mainly melted bumpers and tail lights, with some paint damage.

Ashcraft, who has owned the dealership for four years, felt extremely fortunate to come out with just that damage.

“It went up so fast I had to get up and get my little girl out with me,” Ashcraft said. “I couldn’t even take my personal vehicle with me.”

With he and his daughter safe, he spent the next few hours standing across First Street worrying about that vehicle, which was the closest to the fire and at the time held most of his business’ value. At the close of business every day, Ashcraft takes his inventory’s keys and titles with him to dis-incentivize burglary at the dealership, and he had packed up his vehicle for the day when the flames stared.

Billy Slaughter, who runs a motorcycle shop a block away, felt fortunate the only thing he experienced was a really hot afternoon.

“The only thing I can say is it should have been gone a long time ago,” said Slaughter, who has been in Clovis since 2005. “I understand it’s an old building and part of Clovis history, but it’s dangerous.”

Power was out in much of downtown Clovis for three hours. Wes Reeves, a spokesman for Xcel Energy, said a line outside an Xcel substation was damaged in the fire, and crews spent the afternoon rerouting power from other sources for an approximate 2,000 customers. As of 7 p.m. Saturday, Reeves said power was restored to all but 14 customers.

According to database information from Clovis MainStreet, the mill was first constructed in 1916, and still had some markings of its time as “The Home of the Golden West Flour.” The railroad spur right next to the building aided in easy loading of products to ship across the country.

The building was once city property, Assistant City Manager Claire Burroughes said, due to various tax liens. Burroughes said it wasn’t clear on Sunday who owned the building, as it had changed hands several times since the city moved it in a tax sale.

The building hasn’t served much purpose lately to Clovis other than scenery. Randy Holland said he frequently used the aged building as scenery for senior portraits. Ashcraft said that’s most of the foot traffic he sees, but it wasn’t unusual to see a few squatters there as well.

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