Fire guts Healdsburg Post Office

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A fire destroyed Healdsburg's downtown post office Saturday evening, gutting not only a building, but a cherished community gathering spot.

Smoke and flames first were reported billowing from the building at 5:18 p.m., drawing an estimated 100 firefighters from as far away as Santa Rosa, Cotati and Cloverdale.

They managed to prevent the fire from spreading to the neighboring North Coast Bank and several other offices, but couldn't save the post office.

"We're looking at a total loss of the building," said Paul Lowenthal of the Santa Rosa fire department.

Two Windsor firefighters were injured when their ladder fell while battling the blaze in the interior of the post office. They were taken to Healdsburg District Hospital with back injuries, Windsor Fire Chief Ron Collier said.

There was no reported cause of the fire.

Investigators from the Healdsburg Fire Department and U.S. Postal Service were looking into the fire's cause, along with the FBI because it is a federal facility.

Fire crews arrived to find a raging attic fire. A total of 10 fire departments with 15 engines converged on the building at 404 Center St., a block off the Healdsburg Plaza.

Healdsburg Postmaster Joe Machado said the post office was not open for business Saturday and the last clerk would have picked up mail there around 3:30 p.m.

"Lucky for us there were no employees in the building," he said.

But he said mail inside individual customers' post office boxes would have been lost in the fire.

The postal office that burned was a squat, modest building that once housed a Safeway store in the 1960s. But Healdsburg residents said it was conveniently located, in the heart of the community.

Machado said that on Monday, residents will be able to pick up their mail at the post office annex on Foss Creek Circle Circle.

"We've dealt with situations like this before," he said. "We can provide customers with the services they need at other buildings."

Two years ago, there was a public clamor when postal officials announced their intent to close the downtown facility and make customers collect their mail at the annex located next to the freeway, a half-mile away.

Postal officials said they wanted to save the $100,000 annual costs of leasing and operating the Center Street building.

But the post office relented in the face of public opposition and intervention from Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, whose office fielded complaints from angry postal patrons.

"I'm in and out of there quite often," said Dave Cadd, who stood across the street Saturday along with hundreds of other fire spectators.

A retired printer whose family came to Healdsburg in 1958, he has a specialty nursery business and a p.o. box at the downtown facility.

"When they were talking about closing it down, it got people all riled," he said. "People come and do their shopping in the area, instead of the new (postal) center west of town."

Cadd, like others, recalled a time in the early 1960s when Safeway occupied the same downtown building, which also has been home to other businesses.

But the different remodels and alterations to the building also made it tricky to fight a fire.

"The bow string, truss-roof acted like a house of cards," collapsing in the fire, said Santa Rosa Battalion Chief Andy Pforsich.

"It's a very, very dangerous building to have a fire in," said Craig Lowe, a retired Santa Rosa fire captain and Healdsburg resident who watched from sidelines Saturday.

"The roof collapsed early," he said. "It's old construction."

The fire was reported contained at 7:35 p.m., although firefighters were expected to be on scene into the night and even this morning to ensure there were no flare ups.

There was also some disruption to neighboring businesses. They had to deal with large streams and pools of water blocking their entrances.

That included nearby Ravenous Restaurant, which had to close for the night.

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