Firefighters fought a 40-foot scorching blaze Sunday morning that was one of the largest business fires in recent history.

The fire collapsed all three stories and the roof of Romantix, an adult novelty store. Due to the instability of remaining structure, O Street from Ninth to Tenth could be closed for several days as a precaution, Lincoln Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Pat Borer said.

Authorities fear the burned building could collapse. An engineer will assess the building Monday to decide whether the street is safe to reopen.

Fire inspector Damon Robbins said the building and its contents were a complete loss. The third floor of Romantix was already empty, Borer said, and the other two had no visibly salvageable property left.

Sunday conditions were not safe for Robbins or firefighters to enter the building, so damage estimates and the cause of the fire will start to be assessed today.

"When a commercial structure completely burns up, you know it was a big fire," Borer said.

Neighboring businesses that have no damage -- Danny's Downtown Deli, the Terminal Building, Recycled Sounds and Knickerbockers -- will be open on Monday, Borer said.

Sunday at 9:50 a.m., people were evacuated from the Terminal Building, which houses several offices including radio station KZUM. The radio station, 89.3 FM, was forced to go off air and remained silent until about 3 p.m. on Sunday.

It looks like the Sidetrack Tavern and the old Gourlay Brothers Piano store -- that is being remodeled -- will need some repairs. The Sidetrack Tavern escaped smoke damage, but has has a hole in the roof in which fire crew cut to be able to stop the fire from spreading. Borer said an engineer will assess the old piano store to see if renovations are damaged.

Despite frigid temperatures, firefighters worked through Monday morning to tame the fire that engulfed Romantix, 921 O St., shortly before 9 a.m. on Sunday.

LFR Battalion Chief Bruce Sellon said no one was in the building when the fire started and people in the neighboring businesses were evacuated. The last employee reportedly left Romantix at 3:30 a.m., Borer said.

Nine fire engines were on the scene Sunday morning. Borer said 36 off-duty firefighters were called in, along with the American Red Cross to provide meals and hot drinks for the firefighters.

About 70 firefighters rotated working the fire just to make sure they didn't get too cold or worn out from the frigid temperatures. A van was provided for the firefighters to warm up and eat in. The blaze was contained by midday, and one small fire regnited on Sunday night at 5:30 p.m., Borer said.

"It's hard to work outside in those conditions for a long time," Borer said. "Once you get wet, firefighters don't last too long."

Brisk wind carried billowing black smoke south of downtown Sunday morning, and water sprayed on the buildings, streets and sidewalks around the scene turned into ice, making it treacherous for firefighters who were also covered in ice.

The firefighter's hose water can reach 100 feet, if it didn't freeze before reaching the targeted fire, Borer said.

All electricity that had been turned off in the area surrounding O St., was restored by 2:30 p.m., said Lincoln Electric Systems spokesperson Russ Reno. The charred business and two neighboring businesses didn't have power on Sunday night.

Michael Tarr, Romantix store manager, said he had no comments about the fire.

"Due to the nature of our store, we have no comments," he said.

Former Sidetrack Tavern business owner, Joyce Durand, said she felt sorry for the novelty store she neighbored for possibly 24 years, but she was happy the Sidetrack Tavern didn't catch fire.

"It was a bad fire, but at least no lives were sacrificed," said Fire Chief Niles Ford. "The building can be replaced, the folks can't."

 

Reach Alissa Skelton at 402-473-2682 or askelton@journalstar.com.

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