Photo Essay: Three Alarm Blaze Destroys Old Market Landmark

Investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing.

Tom Hermanek, Copy Editor

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On Saturday, January 9, 2015, a beloved, century-old building in Omaha’s Old Market was rocked by a natural gas explosion, erupted into flames, and is now a burned out shell.

The building, located on the Northwest corner of 11th & Howard, was home to businesses such as M’s Pub, Nouvelle Eve, and The Market House.

An eye witness and Old Market resident of 25 years, who asked to be identified as “Kirk,” says that he was inside La Buvette, located a half block from M’s Pub, at about 2:35 p.m. Saturday afternoon when he heard a loud boom.

“I went outside and saw flames shooting up,” he said. The witness could tell that it was likely a natural gas explosion due to the large fireball that he saw. He immediately called 911. As he watched the glass blow out across the street, he saw people pouring out of M’s Pub.

Kirk says that emergency responders were on the scene within 5 minutes of his 911 call, or at about 2:40 p.m. As it blazed through the night, it grew to a three-alarm fire, and was finally deemed to be under control by a little after midnight Sunday, but not without taking most of one of Omaha’s most beloved and historic buildings with it.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Kirk, “that whole buidling’s gone.”

The following morning, as the sun rose over the Omaha skyline, a sordidly beautiful, disheartening scene was unveiled. The facade of the once industrial, turned historical building was coated in a thick layer of ice. Firefighters continued to spray water through the windows of the building, for fear of a flare-up.

According to WOWT, Omaha Fire Chief Bernie Kanger said that the fire was one of the worst he’s ever seen, and in some of the worst possible conditions, with windchills that dropped well below zero overnight. “The fact that there were no fatalities is nothing short of a miracle,” Kanger said.

On Tuesday, January 12, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, commenced an investigation into the fire. Although it is still very early in the investigation, initial reports indicate that North Central Service, a Bemidji, Minn.-based company, was working at the site of the fire for Missouri-based Unite Private Networks, which had been contracted by Verizon for work on a telecommunications project.

Regional Director of OSHA Jeff Funke told WOWT, “These types of incidents are preventable if OSHA standards are followed.” The investigation could take up to six months to complete. Skutt Catholic Flightline has attempted to contact both North Central Service and Unite Private Networks, but has not received a response from either firm.

As investigations continue and the damage continues to be assessed, one thing is for certain: The Old Market will bounce back. Plans have already begun to rebuild the on the corner of 11th & Howard, and building owners Mike and Vera Mercer hope to use the building’s original facade, if possible.

Tom Hermanek - Managing Editor

Tom became a member of The Flightline in January of 2015. He is a senior who is involved in mock trial and swimming. Off campus, Tom spends his time with friends or working at Starbucks. You can email him at [email protected]