A weekend fire destroyed two Oelwein businesses and left several families homeless. Fire crews from Oelwein and several other communities were called out just before 10:30 Friday night to the West Charles Mall antique store and Kirby vacuum cleaner store, where a blaze apparently began in one of the upstairs apartments.

Oelwein Fire Chief Wallace Rundle says crews tried to control the fire in the hallway and thought they were making progress but the flames reached the three ceilings and the attic and “got away from us,” forcing all firefighters to pull out of the building. He says the damage is extensive.

The apartments were gutted by fire, while the first floor is intact but it has heavy water damage.

The vacuum cleaner shop was destroyed. Rundle says it’s fortunate that no one was injured. He says smoke is still rising from some areas as crews work to put out hot spots which remain from the big fire. The chief was asked if they have an indication yet of what may’ve caused the blaze.

The cause is still unknown and all residents of the apartments were at home when the fire broke out, so interviews are continuing. He says it was “kinda’ scary” for some of them to have to evacuate so quickly as the smoke was getting thick. Rundle was also asked if the buildings, located just off the downtown, will have to be torn down.

He says the Kirby store is totaled but the antique store is still intact and he’ll defer to the insurance company about what the next step will be.

By Roger King, KOEL, Oelwein