No one hurt in thrift store collapse

Second story of Salvation Army falls

As firefighters wait outside, a search and rescue dog volunteered by FEMA is taken by its handler around to another side of the Salvation Army’s As-Is Store, 1038 Ute Ave.

Dozens of Grand Junction firefighters worked well into the night Friday, scouring through rubble for a possible shopper who they feared had been trapped inside a Salvation Army thrift store after a portion of its second story collapsed.

By 9:30 p.m. Friday, they determined no one was inside, and they secured the building to make sure no one could enter it overnight.

Six shoppers and 16 employees who were working at the 1038 Ute Ave. store were accounted for shortly after a loft inside collapsed about 3:30 p.m., but rescue workers searched the building anyway in case someone had been trapped by the falling debris, said Mike Page, spokesman for the Grand Junction Fire Department.

Firefighters called out to anyone who might have been buried in the rubble, but they did not receive a response. They spent hours continuing to look because employees told them they feared there might have been at least one other person shopping inside the store but didn’t know for sure.

Page said firefighters did not receive any reports about people being missing, but they had to proceed as if there was somebody in the rubble.

One car went unclaimed in the store’s parking lot, prompting some officials to speculate its owner was still inside. Officials later located the car’s owner, verifying she had gotten out. Page said the car was left behind because the woman was forced to leave her purse inside the store. Her keys were in that purse.

No one was seriously injured from the collapse, but one person was treated for respiratory problems, Page said.

Officials and witnesses reported that about one-fourth of a loft on the store’s south side came crashing down without warning, spreading debris and causing books, stored items and building materials to cascade into the employee break room and the store’s Christmas decoration section.

“I just thought some tubs were falling upstairs until we saw the floor coming towards us,” said one store worker who asked not to be identified.

Salvation Army Capt. Dan Wilson said he didn’t know if the decades-old building collapsed from age or because of numerous items stored on the second floor. He said its wood floor was supported by metal beams, and employees had recently reorganized the area, reducing the number of items stored there.

Still, rescue workers had to pull out numerous items obstructing their search as they slowly worked their way deeper and deeper into the building, tossing aside such things as furniture, Christmas decorations and jagged timbers from the collapsed loft.

The search through the debris included use of a Bobcat excavator and a backhoe to tunnel beneath the building, while others cut through the side of the structure in an attempt to access the collapsed area without bringing down more debris.

Searchers also turned to thermal-imaging scanners and rescue dogs, brought in from Aspen, that are trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to search for trapped people.

Page said firefighters shored up the debris as they searched, helping speed up the process and ensuring no one else got trapped or injured.

Ute Avenue, a one-way street for westbound traffic, was closed at 11th Street for several hours.

The Salvation Army has been working on updating its other facilities in the region, and the Ute Avenue warehouse was the next project on the list to be remodeled, Wilson said.

The Salvation Army had been losing money from operations at the store in recent years, partly because of high utility costs, and the store had been forced to spend more money to move worthless donated items to the dump, he said. Profits also decreased because of the poor economy, which Wilson said was prompting people to hang onto items they normally would donate. New competition in Grand Junction, such as the Goodwill store that opened in 2007 at 630 24 1/2 Road, hasn’t helped its bottom line, either.

The organization has adopted a policy restricting what items it will accept, and plans were under way to reduce the store’s outside sale yard, Wilson said.

The Salvation Army also had a major financial setback when its Delta store burned down in July 2009.

“We worked really hard at getting things changed around,” Wilson said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do now. Sometimes you just can’t work hard enough.”

Sentinel photographer Gretel Daugherty contributed to this report.


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