Building owner tries to remain positive after fire

2014-03-23T13:14:00Z 2014-03-24T12:36:03Z Building owner tries to remain positive after fireBy CHRIS CIOFFI ccioffi@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The reality that he won't be able to go to his office Monday morning hasn't quite sunk in for Joe Prisbe.

"I'm still trying to understand that it happened," he said.

Prisbe has owned the space since April, but the land is owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. 

The 40-year-old JP Enterprises building at 3301 First Ave. S. was so close to the two other buildings on the property that it looked like one space.

It burned as one space, too, when a fire broke out on the east side of the building Friday night. 

It didn't take long for thick smoke and orange flames to quickly reduce the building to rubble. 

There was a lot of combustible material in the building.

"Tires, oil, 15 vehicles, furniture, you name it,” said Billings Fire Marshal Mike Spini. 

Firefighters spent most of the weekend putting out hot spots that kept flaring up within the property. 

A Case CX130 excavator helped firefighters safely finish their investigation Sunday by tearing down unstable walls and clearing safe passages through the building.

The excavator helped push rubble away from the road, making it safe to reopen First Avenue South. 

It also delicately plucked filing cabinets up and out of the space that used to be Prisbe's office.

Firefighters helped him pry them open as he searched the drawers to salvage files, pictures of his family and cash that he had stored in the cabinets. Nothing could be saved.

In the growing list of irreplaceable items, the item at the top of the list used to hang just above the filing cabinets.

"My Grandpa Nutting's walking cane," he said.

Prisbe can still remember coming to get coal with his grandfather, cane in hand, at the hardware store that used to be in the building.

The cane also kept him in line.

“When I crossed my mother, she’d whack me across the ass with it,” he said.

Prisbe kept it in the prominent spot so he could gaze upon it often, he said.

“It reminded me of my grandpa and my mom, they’re both gone now,” he said.

JP Enterprises, sprawled across all three buildings, and included a flea market, an auction house, a wrecker company and an auto repair shop.

Prisbe’s buildings were filled with items he was repairing or preparing for sale.

"This has affected about 20 people," he said.

A big load of crafts, items on consignment and other inventory he purchased had already been hauled in for his spring flea market sale.

“I finally had gotten all the stuff on the shelves,” Prisbe said.

Everything was incinerated. 

Vehicles and items belonging to friends and family members stored in his space were burned as well, he said. "My 4-year-old's motorcycle got burned up.”

Fire investigators said the structure was not insured, but some of the contents were. They will know more tomorrow, when insurance adjusters arrive.

The smell of fire still wafted across the street as Prisbe looked at the wreckage from behind the caution tape.

Prisbe admits the news has been mostly bad, but it's not all bad. 

"My dog got out," he said.

It’s not clear what Prisbe will do next. He said Monday will be spent building a fence around the property to keep people out of the rubble, but Prisbe has a positive outlook.  

“Some good comes out of everything,” he said. “You just got to find it.”

The reality that he won't be able to go to his office Monday morning hasn't quite sunk in yet for Joe Prisbe.

"I'm still trying to understand that it happened," he said.

The JP Enterprises building, which he owned with a partner at 3301 First Avenue S., was so close to two other buildings on the property that they formed one space.

It burned as one space too, when a fire broke out on the east side of the building Friday night. 

Police and firefighters spent most of the weekend putting out hot-spots that kept flaring up within the wreckage. 

There was a lot of combustible material in the building, said Billings Fire Marshal, Mike Spini. "Tires, oil, 15 vehicles, furniture, you name it." 

The fire was probably the biggest fire that Billings has seen in the last year, Spini estimated. 

A Case CX130 excavator helped firefighters safely finish their investigations by tearing down walls and clearing pathways into the building.

The excavator carefully pushed rubble away from the road and plucked several filing cabinets out of the space that used to be Prisbe's office. Firefighters helped him pry them open.

He was hoping to salvage files, pictures of his family and cash that he had stored in the space. It was all burned.

The thing he will miss most, he said an item that hung just above the filing cabinets. "My grandpa Nutting's walking cane," he said. 

Prisbe said he remembered going 

"This has effected about 20 people," he said. JP Enterprises, which encompassed a flea market, artisan crafts, an auction house and a wrecker company and an auto-repair shop.

"My four-year-old's motorcycle got burned up," he said. Several customer's cars, artisan crafts he had hauled in for his spring flea market and other items he was preparing for sale were all incinerated. 

Devastation was all around him, but there was a bright spot.

"My dog got out," he said. The watchdog was able to make it out safely. 

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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