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Avenues ward house burns

Fire not suspicious; no one injured, but the loss is painful

Crews fight three-alarm fire at 589 E. 18th Ave. that apparently began in the attic.
Crews fight three-alarm fire at 589 E. 18th Ave. that apparently began in the attic.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

At least no one was hurt.

It was a familiar phrase uttered by upper Avenues residents as they watched their beloved LDS meetinghouse burn on a snowy Saturday evening.

While a few tears were shed, most were just happy everyone escaped safely.

"It's not the ward house, it's the people. The ward house can be replaced," said Holly Young, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who attends services there.

LDS Stake President David Evans said there was the normal Saturday bustle of activity at the building, 589 E. 18th Ave., before the fire broke out in the attic Saturday. Teenaged basketball players using the meetinghouse court first reported the smell of smoke at 4:24 p.m. All day long there had been baptisms and other activities inside, Evans said.

Holly Young and her husband, Roger, said they had smelled a strange scent inside the building a few hours earlier.

"All my children were baptized there," Roger Young said as he watched the building burn.

By the time fire crews arrived — which took longer than usual given the snowpacked conditions along the narrow, windy, steep road in Salt Lake City's foothills — fire had spread throughout the attic. With about 6 inches of snow on the building's roof, and more coming down every minute, fire crews had a tough task at hand.

Firefighters navigated the slippery, sloping roof, cut holes in the top and then held fire hoses as they poured water into the attic below. As those crews worked from above, other crews worked inside.

When the fire was called under control, 67 firefighters had spent some hours battling the three-alarm blaze, Salt Lake City Fire Public Information Office Dennis McKone said. Even after that under-control call, crews spent another three hours mopping up. While much of the building was saved, the structure sustained an estimated $1 million damage, McKone said.

Tired crews took shelter in the garage of a nearby home and were provided with pizza and hot chocolate.

It's not known what caused the fire, although speculation was that an electrical or mechanical malfunction in the attic sparked the blaze. McKone said the fire was "definitely not" arson.

Evans said the two wards that meet in the building, the Emigration 4th and 6th wards, would hold services at the Federal Heights meetinghouse, 1300 E. Fairfax Road, at their normal times today.

"We have a tremendous sense of loss, but we have great feelings of gratitude that no one was hurt and for the great effort made by the fire department," Evans said. "There's nothing that can't be replaced."