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Residents, business owners reeling from downtown fire

BY RISHABH R. JAIN | SEPTEMBER 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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Neighboring businesses are shut down and undergoing cleanup and repair work in the aftermath of the fire at Bruegger's Bagel Bakery, 225 Iowa Ave. over the weekend.

The fire that reportedly started at Bruegger's early on the morning of Sept. 24 spread to nearby buildings on Iowa Avenue and Linn Street, despite attempts by Iowa City and 11 surrounding Fire Departments to contain the fire.

According to reports released by city officials, the fire spread to 9 S. Linn St., despite efforts by the firefighters. The fire was finally declared under control at 7:30 a.m. after causing smoke and water damage to Takanami, Yacht Club, Studio 13, and AKAR — and devastating Bruegger's.

George Etre, the owner of Takanami, 219 Iowa Ave., said his establishment was very lucky to have incurred only minor smoke and water damage. He credited the Fire Departments for spraying the building with water to prevent the fire from spreading.

Takanami was up and running on Saturday evening, unlike other business that were damaged in the fire.   

Cleaners from Servpro Industries have begun cleanup measures in Yacht Club, which incurred a significant amount of water and smoke damage, said Mark McWhinney, an estimator for Servpro.

"Just to throw a number out there, it might take about $40,000 for a complete dry out and some additional reconstruction charges," he said.

Seth Goodman, who works at Gabe's, 330 E. Washington St., was one of the first locals on scene and watched as fire crews tried to keep the blaze at bay.

"There was a lot of dark smoke coming out of the building and then flames started shooting from the side of Bruegger's," Goodman said. "A trash can caught on fire, and [firefighters] started shooting the Takanami building to keep the fire from spreading there."

Several residents of the affected buildings have been displaced, and 11 of them made contact with the Grant Wood chapter of the American Red Cross located in Cedar Rapids.

While some have declined assistance, most have been helped with room and board.

"If they needed a hotel room, we were helping them with that," said Emily Farber, a disaster-team member in Johnson County for the Grant Wood chapter. "Some people were left with nothing but the pajamas that they left in, and we are helping them with some money for clothing and basic essentials."  

Despite efforts by various organizations to help displaced residents, the loss is immense for Michael Lersten, a University of Iowa medical student and a resident of 9 S. Linn St.

"I am in the second year of medical school, so all my notes and things are gone," he said as he watched a surge of water from the fire crew's water hose break his apartment window. "Also, my guitar is gone. Just a lot of things that basically have meaning are lost now."

Lersten is staying at the Sheraton with assistance from Red Cross, and he plans to stay at a friend's place this week. He also said that later this week, he wants to go into his apartment and look for things that may have survived the fire, .

More than 10 fire trucks and 30 firefighters were seen trying to put out the fire. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.


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