Business owner loses everything in Bywater fire

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 12, 2014 at 10:39 PM

Updated Sunday, Jul 13 at 10:31 AM

Jaclyn Kelley / Eyewitness News
Email: jkelley@wwltv.com | Twitter: @jkelleyWWL

NEW ORLEANS -- A local business owner is forced to rebuild after a four-alarm fire destroyed a warehouse building in the Bywater.

Firefighters were called to the 3600 block of Royal Street just after 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

"I saw huge flames, billowing black smoke, about three, four or five fire engines with ladders in the sky shooting water at it from all different angles," says nearby resident Paul Cramer.

Neighbors watched in disbelief as firefighters tried to save the four businesses and art school inside the Bywater warehouse building.

"The flames started rolling and rolling and we were all calling 911 and nobody was getting an answer," said concerned resident Katy Reckdahl.

Blake Vonderhaar, the owner of the businesses, turned the old, vacant broom factory into a pet store and art supply store, which also included an art restoration lab and antique frame gallery.

Now, it is nothing more than burnt rubble.

"It just makes us really sad because it's going to take a while to get that back there," Cramer said.

Vonderhaar was in the backyard with her four dogs when she suddenly noticed flames shooting from a second floor, and before she knew it, the flames had spread from one of the building to the other.

"Within five to 10 minutes the whole building was fully engulfed, so it was really fast and there was no to salvage anything," Vonderhaar said.

While she was able to make it out safely along with an employee and her dogs, the fire destroyed all the artwork.

"That's the real tragedy," Vonderhaar said. "Everything else is replaceable, but that artwork is not and it just makes me sick that it's all gone."

Fire officials say the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Vonderhaar believes the cause may be electrical.

"It had to have been some sort of short circuit because nobody was working in the lab and it's in a room that doesn't have any equipment, aside from and air conditioner and a fan," Vonderhaar said.

Officials say firefighters were forced to evacuate the building when the roof began to collapse, but they were still able to keep the fire from spreading to any of the neighboring homes.

 

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