Manitoba small town fire felt in Nakusp

A massive fire in a small Manitoba town was also a devastating loss for a Nakusp businessman.

A massive fire in a small Manitoba town in September was also a devastating loss for a Nakusp businessman.

“Our flagship dream is laying 14 feet below ground, in burned rubble,” says Reny Kitto, the owner of ArKay Computers in Nakusp.

Kitto owned a heritage building in downtown Virden, Man., a community of 3,000 about 300 kilometres west of Winnipeg. The fire started in the basement of his store and took out three other buildings in the community’s historic downtown shopping district.

Police, fire and insurance investigators are looking into what caused the Sept. 23 fire, which is considered a case of arson.

Kitto says a small fire in the basement the evening before the main blaze was quickly put out by fire crews. It had started with a water leak on a power panel.

But Kitto says after the first fire, the power was turned off in his building for the night. He says that gave someone the opportunity to break in and start a second, larger fire.

“We had a wicked security system because that’s what we do,” he says. “We had security cameras, heat detectors, smoke detectors, fire detectors, intrusion alarms and motion detectors.

“But all of that doesn’t mean anything without power.”

The fire quickly spread to two adjoining buildings, completely destroying all three.

An RCMP spokesperson in Manitoba says the fire is still under investigation, and no arrests have been made.

Kitto is feeling the loss deeply. He bought the turn-of-the-century building in 2012, refurbishing it into the “coolest store in town,” he says.

“It just breaks your heart,” he says. “We put so much of ourselves into this place.”

Kitto moved from Nakusp to Virden — his ex-wife’s hometown — in 1998, when the forestry industry collapsed in the softwood lumber trade war. He says they started over with nothing in Manitoba, building a business from scratch that culminated in the restoration of the historic downtown Virden shop.

“This [building] was a huge transformation in our life,” he says. “It has served us well and we have served the community well with our services and products.”

The loss of the building and all its contents is hard enough. But Kitto told Arrow Lakes News business has been booming recently, and the company was on a great roll.

“This literally could not happen economically at a more worse time,” he says. “It’s a very frustrating thing.”

“The sooner we find space and get operational again, the better. We are scrambling now to find a rental space so we can set up temporary business and keep on helping people with cell phones.”

Kitto says it’s important for the health of the local economy to resume business because the loss of one service in a small town affects everyone.

“The saddest thing we can do is to not have enough services in town, that we force people to have to go out of town,” he says. “We lose that customer because they will buy other things when they go out of town.”

The business disaster is going to take Kitto away from his ArKay Computers store in Nakusp “until I can get things sorted out here,” he said from Virden. He returned to Nakusp and opened the shop in October 2016.

“Luckily I have great staff in Nakusp that are stepping up and taking care of that store,” he says. “I can’t thank them enough, that’s for sure.”

In an earlier version of the story Mr. Kitto indicated an arrest had been made in the case. An RCMP spokesperson in Manitoba says the fire is still under investigation, and no arrests have been made.

Updated at 5:53 p.m. on Sept. 29.

 

A fire destroyed several buildings in Virden, Man. (Maxine Litton/Special to Arrow Lakes News)

A fire destroyed several buildings in Virden, Man. (Maxine Litton/Special to Arrow Lakes News)

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