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Fire Extinguishes Old Town Business

Historic brick building suffers $2 million damage

A four alarm blaze causing an estimated $2 million in damage has closed a well known and long standing Old Town commercial enterprise.

Utica, located on the street level of 203 S. Union, was severely damaged as a result of a fire that swept through the second and third floors of the historic brick building. The upper floors housed two apartments, an architectural firm and an art studio, according to the Alexandria Fire Department.

The fire was reported shortly after 10 a.m. when an Alexandria Parking Enforcement officer spotted smoke coming from the building. In addition to Alexandria, units and personnel from Arlington, Fairfax County, and Reagan Washington National Airport responded.

Jane Malik, Alexandria Fire Department Public Information Officer, said, "The damage has been estimated at $2 million, $500,000 to the structure and $1.5 million to the contents. There were no injuries." It is believed the fire started on the second level, but at press time, no official cause of the fire had been reported.

The building shares a common wall with 205 S. Union St. which is home to Gallery West, an art gallery; Stabbing Alterations, a tailor shop; and living quarters on the top floor. There was no fire damage to that structure but firefighters had to ventilate it due to extensive smoke accumulation.

TOUGH ACCESS TO FIRE

Firefighters had difficulty getting equipment and water to the rear of the building, where flames were spewing out of the upper floors. Access is particularly difficult because the building is midway in a row of attached structures with rear access limited by the homes at Captain's Landing and wall configuration.

All of the fire vehicles as well as most of the hoses and ladders were restricted to Union and Prince streets. Extension ladder trucks provided firefighters access to the roof while others reached to the second and third story Union Street windows of both addresses.

Firefighters were able to get water to the rear by scaling a low wall. This enabled them to get water into the rear of the building which was engulfed in flames.

Sarah Savage, owner and operator of Utica, would not venture a guess as to when the store might reopen. "This is the kind of business that gives Old Town Alexandria a real flavor. We have a real tie to the community," she said.

Utica specializes in American handmade items that are both highly unusual and functional. Savage has charity events at Utica, with the proceeds being donated to a wide variety of organizations such as The Campagna Center and others.

"People are familiar with the artists as well as the products," Savage explained. "We have been here for 11 years and this is a huge loss to us."

If there is ever any humor in the face of this type of disaster it happened during this event. While one of the Alexandria firefighters was inside Utica, the telephone rang. He answered it and the voice on the other end of the line was one of the television news station hunting for their representatives on the scene.

The firefighter informed the caller, "I'm a little busy right now. There's a fire going on." He promptly hung up the phone.