A Front Street blaze that broke out Friday evening in Marietta was contained to a second-story loft, but smoke damaged four businesses in the downtown district.
No cause had been determined as of press time for the fire that broke out around 6:39 p.m. above the Rags 2 Riches boutique and designer consignment shop, 284 Front St., where store owners Stevie and Jeff Rowley lived. The Rowleys were unharmed, and their two cats were rescued.
The fire was under control after about an hour, but smoke spread to the next three businesses in the block: All Pro Nutrition, Putnam Chocolate and Teri Ann's.
"It was smoke damage, but we had almost all consumables, so we can't sell it," said All Pro Nutrition owner Rob Gilliand, whose business was destroyed in a 2004 fire at a different Front Street location.
Firefighters escorted Gilliand and friends into his store multiple times Friday so he could try to carry out items he might be able to salvage.
As Teri Ann Pfeffer watched the firefighters work from the street in front of her business, she said it wasn't just anxiety about her store that had her stomach in knots.
KATE YORK The Marietta Times
Marietta firefighters responded Friday evening to a fire on the second floor of the Front Street building housing Rags 2 Riches. Three other businesses sustained smoke damage.
"I'm worried about everyone," she said. "It's so awful. It's so hard to wait."
A crowd of onlookers quickly gathered at the scene as the street was closed and firefighters fought the blaze, mainly from the Rags 2 Riches roof.
It's the second major fire on the street in the last year, with a blaze later determined to be arson destroying three businesses in the 100 block of Front Street last March and damaging a fourth.
Notable downtown fires:
March 22, 2010: The Marietta Wine Cellars, Riverside Artists Gallery and Front Street Deli and Bakery at the corner of Front and Butler streets were destroyed by a fire set to cover a burglary at the Wine Cellars.
July 9, 2005: 258 Front St. burned, at the time housed Brownie's Donut Pastry Shoppe. The business had been operated by the Brown family for 40 years.
Nov. 28, 2003: Several Front Street buildings damaged by fire:
- 246-248 Front St., built around 1890. At the time of the fire, housed All-Pro Nutrition and Marietta Music Co.
- 250 Front St., built in 1859. At the time of the fire, housed Mad Hen Primitives, former location of Wendelken's General Store for more than 100 years.
- 252 Front St., built around 1890. At the time of the fire housed Valley Beauty School.
March 1998: Fire at 213 Greene St., damages building that housed four apartments and tire storage.
April 1996: Fire breaks out on the third floor of the Adventure Galley restaurant, 203 Second St. The restaurant and bar had been located there since 1981. Formerly the Hackett Hotel.
November 1995: Rivertown Mini Mall at 167 Front St. damaged by fire.
March 1994: Fire damaged several buildings in the 100 block of Front Street, including 181 Front St., 185 Front St., 179 Front St. and 177 Front St.
Feb. 8, 1992: Portions of a two-story brick apartment building at 1005 Greene St. destroyed, leaving 18 people homeless.
March 26, 1988: Fire destroyed Jim & Jimmy's Place, 216 Front St.; accidental.
"It's sad to see another building here on fire," said Rosemarie Remlinger, who watched from the post office across the street, with her sister, Katie. "But we did get to see a cat get rescued, so we were happy about that."
The two, who live just a few blocks further down Front Street, heard about the fire on television and headed that way.
"There were still a few flames shooting out but they seem to have gotten it down to smoke pretty quickly," said Katie Remlinger.
Kat Lyons, assistant manager at Baker & Baker Jewelers, 105 Putnam St., said she was seeing horrific images of the fire, as people snapped them on their phones and brought them into the store.
"It was a whole big blaze at first and probably the scariest thing I've ever seen," she said.
As soon as she closed the jewelry store, Lyons headed to the scene to provide support.
"It's a brotherhood here," she said. "If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us."
Big cheers erupted from the crowd when the Rowleys' cat, Prince, was brought safely from the building about two hours after the fire began. Max, another cat, had already been rescued.
Both pets were on Stevie Rowley's mind as she watched the destruction of her home and was eventually taken to wait in an ambulance as she sobbed uncontrollably.
"That's my house and my business - and my cats are still in there," she said.
The Rowleys had owned the Rags 2 Riches building since fall 2009, when Rowley decided to make her longtime dream of owning a boutique a reality, and had recently decided to sell it, said Jeff Rowley.
They were having dinner at Applebee's Friday when a friend came to their table and asked if they were all right.
"Then he told me our house was on fire," Jeff Rowley said.
Marietta police Sgt. Rod Hupp said the department initially received five calls, back to back.
"The third caller said he could hear glass breaking on the second floor," he said.
The fire inspector was checking the roof and second floor area of the building late Friday, but a cause still hadn't been determined and firefighters were expected to remain on the scene overnight.
Firefighters were chopping through the Rags 2 Riches building roof for ventilation by 8:30 p.m.
"No one was home at the time and nobody was hurt - that's the main thing," said C.W. Durham, interim Marietta fire chief.
Sam Shawver contributed.