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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, March 29, 2014 6:09 am

Fire claims former Iowa department store building

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) A massive fire swept through a more than century-old building that was being renovated in downtown Des Moines early Saturday morning, causing its upper floors to collapse and authorities to close down numerous streets. No one was injured.

Des Moines Fire Department spokesman Brian O'Keefe said it first got word of a fire at the former Younkers department store building at about 12:50 a.m. Saturday, and arrived to find flames leaping from the upper floors of the seven-floor building, which dates to 1899.

He said about an hour later, the top floors of the building had collapsed.

"As they were looking into the floors, every floor they were checking had heavy smoke and fire damage," O'Keefe told the Des Moines Register. "They could hear internal collapses occurring. So the command pulled those people out and gave an evacuation signal."

The Younkers store was a landmark in Des Moines for years, but the building closed in 2005. In September, a Wisconsin-based company began turning it into apartments and retail space, a $36 million project.

Authorities said it wasn't clear what sparked the blaze.

"Being under construction, there's so many variables," O'Keefe said, noting that an investigation will be needed to also determine whether the building was a total loss.

KCCI reported that debris from the fire collapsed onto the skywalk leading east from the Younkers building at 701 Walnut Street. The Hub Tower and the EMC Building have also been significantly damaged, O'Keefe said, and other buildings have suffered damage from falling debris and smoke.

Authorities closed some nearby streets and skywalks on Saturday morning.

Brian Crall said he woke up to the sound of fire engines and the orange glow of the blaze across the street from his apartment.

"It just sounded like 100 car accidents happening at once," he told the newspaper, adding that he went out in the street and noticed, "The flames were really like three or four stories taller than the actual building."