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Fire razes Curtis building

Fire razes Curtis building

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Frontier County fire

The Curtis building housing the Frontier County Enterprise smolders on Sunday. A passerby reported the structure fire just after 3 a.m. Sunday morning.

Century-old structure housed Frontier County Enterprise; cause not yet known

As the burning roof crashed down on the Frontier County Enterprise building in Curtis, Tori Willis realized they were going to lose everything.

Willis owns the weekly publication with her husband, Bob; the paper was established in 1886. The couple was awakened early Sunday morning after a student returning home from Maywood’s prom spotted flames coming from the building on Center Avenue.

The teenager called the Frontier County Sheriff’s office just after 3 a.m. on April 17, according to a press release issued Sunday morning by Frontier County Sheriff Dan Rupp.

When the authorities arrived at the scene, the building was completely engulfed. By 3:30 a.m. Willis found herself bolting the four blocks from her home to the office.

“My husband drove down immediately,” Willis said. “I grabbed the camera, like a true reporter, and I ran. It was only four blocks, but it was the longest four blocks of my life.”

The sheriff’s office and Curtis Rescue Squad were the first on the scene; Maywood Fire Department was also dispatched after mutual aid was requested.

It took approximately two hours to get the fire under control, Rupp said in the release; during that time, Willis continued to take photos.

“It helped thinking that I needed to cover it,” Willis said. “I just thought of taking photos. I was in shock and disbelief that it was my building.”

The Willises purchased the Frontier County Enterprise and the building about 14 years ago. The building was built in the early 1900s, and Willis said that it has likely housed the newspaper since.

“I loved that old building,” Willis said. “It’s such a big loss. It’s been such a part of our lives for so many years.”

The building was declared a total loss; almost everything inside it is either gone or buried beneath the rubble. Residents stopped by the Enterprise building several times on Sunday, expressing sadness over the loss.

Archives were stored in the building, meaning original copies of papers spanning 130 years are gone. Willis said that, luckily, they had been sending papers to the Nebraska state archives. While they may not all be on microfilm, many copies are.

An unoccupied building north of the enterprise office was damaged. A mechanic shop and lumber storage building south of the Enterprise office were saved, but sustained smoke damage.

Once the sun came up on Sunday morning, Willis got her first real look at the building.

“I looked through there and I saw sky,” Willis said. “I saw all of the damage. That was another moment when I realized that this is really happening and it’s not a nightmare.”

The family took a trip to North Platte on Sunday to load up on office supplies including pens, printers and computer monitors, so they could get this week’s paper put together. Willis said she’s in shock, but they’re focusing on getting the next issue into the hands of readers.

“To remain a legal newspaper we have to print 52 issues a year,” Willis said, as she sat on the floor of a temporary space in the Curtis Mall.

The publication usually prints on Tuesdays, but Willis said they’re going to shoot for Thursday this week.

The cause of the fire is unknown and is currently under investigation by the state fire marshal, Rupp said in the release.

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