The monumental Younkers building home to the Younkers department store was destroyed in a fire earlier this Saturday. Located in Des Moines, Iowa spectators could not help but watch in shock as the century old building was completely engulfed in flames.
Younkers is an American department store chain found in the year 1856. It operated in and around Iowa but also expanded in the surrounding states in the Midwest region of the United States. By the late 1900s the chain was sold to an ownership outside the state and the Des Moines building was shut down as part of the corporate consolidation.
The fire that surrounded the building was a three alarm fire. That meant that a large number of fire fighters along with heavy equipment were sent to put out the fire. Witness reported seeing huge flames at the top of the building sometimes around 1 am. Des Moines fire department spokesman Brian O’Keefe said that the fire was first reported sometimes around 12.50 am. A few video recordings show that huge chunks of building fell as the firefighters continued to put out the flames.
Firefighters on first arriving at the location saw that the entire Younkers building had been engulfed in flames. They quickly called for reinforcement when they noticed that the fire was slowly gaining intensity. O’Keefe added that the building was still under construction and hence most of the rooms were open. Most of the fire alarms and water sprinklers installed were not yet functional. All these factors helped the fire to grow out of control.
Unfortunately the firefighters were fighting a losing battle. After a six hour struggle firefighters remained on the scene pouring water on what remained of the Younkers building. Buildings to the east and south of the Younkers were also damaged by the falling debris. This included the EMC insurance building that was close by. The fire department said that local owners and managers should report to them regarding assistance with damage sustained to their buildings due to the fire.
This was neither the first nor the most dangerous fire in the chain’s century old history. In November 1978 a fire broke out in the Younkers store in Marle Hay Mall, Des Moines. The fire claimed the life of 10 people and is said to be the most devastating in Des Moines’s history. It is believed that the fire was caused due to faulty wiring and an electrical malfunction.
It is however not yet clear as to what started the fire in the Younkers building this Saturday. The building has been cleared and no injuries have been reported. Authorities closed down the nearby areas to control the damage and city buses were detoured to a different route to avoid the area.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Crownie said that the building was a key part in the downtown revitalization project. The Younkers building has been a notable landmark for Des Moines for years. Crownie said that while it was devastating to see such a landmark lost, Des Moines is on the move and that this will not hold them back. He added that the Younkers building being destroyed in the fire would also cause them to reevaluate what Walnut Street is going to look like.
By Hammad Ali