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MUCH WAS LOST IN CLINIC FIRE, BUT PRIDE WAS FUELED

SHARE MUCH WAS LOST IN CLINIC FIRE, BUT PRIDE WAS FUELED

A day after fire destroyed a Valley Mental Health clinic near downtown Salt Lake City, emotions ran high as workers assessed their losses.

An errant spark from a roofer's propane torch is believed to have caused the blaze, which gutted the Armed Forces Recruiting Center and Valley Mental Health at about 800 East and 400 South on Wednesday afternoon. The fire was one of the city's worst, causing more than $2 million in damage.On the deficit side of the property ledger, every female employee lost her purse to the blaze. One woman watched her brand-new car - complete with dealer tags - go up in smoke. Another lost a car she'd borrowed from a friend when hers wouldn't start.

Handwritten records and information that had not yet been entered into computers are destroyed, said Valley Mental Health spokesperson Connie Hines.

And the mental-health system has one less clinic.

That's a short - and insignificant - list, Hines said.

She has a list of 36 reasons to be grateful: The 21 mentally and medically fragile patients and the 15 staffers who succeeded in getting them to safety without hesitating or creating panic.

"We're so proud of our staff," Hines said. "We've got some adjustments to make, but that's insignificant compared to our pride."

Thursday, clinic officials met at Valley Mental Health headquarters to decide what to do. Several mental-health units have pooled together to absorb the operations of the destroyed clinic.

Because a large number of the patients served at that location are considered particularly fragile - "a lot of them had come from nursing homes and been placed in the community," Hines said - many are brought to treatment in a van. It will be easy to notify them of a new location. And personal data including telephones and address information is intact in the computer system.

The major problem Hines foresees is the inconvenience. Because other units and administration offices are taking calls related to the fire, "we're a little slower to respond. We just hope the public will be patient and understanding," Hines said.

Meanwhile, work for the armed forces representatives formerly housed in the burned building hasn't skipped a beat, other than they're now scattered in various recruiting offices in the valley and they don't know the extent of what they lost.

Nine people from the Army, Navy and Air Force worked on the middle floor of the building. All three agencies lost computer and other electronic equipment, with the Army's losses estimated at about $20,000, said public affairs officer Bill Morris.

They haven't yet gone back to survey the damages fully, said Air Force Sgt. Marcus Scott, because of danger in the unstable building. Other than water and smoke damage, the Navy office is most likely intact, said Lt. Rob Ewing.

Still, "I think the government is probably considering it all a loss," he said.