WOODBINE, Iowa — As flames consumed the Everything Ellen Flower Shoppe and damaged adjoining businesses downtown, leaders of this small city briefly considered canceling today's Western Iowa Applefest.
But as firefighters from 14 local volunteer departments brought the blaze under control Thursday, that possibility was discarded.
“It would be just horrible if we didn't do it,” said City Administrator Joe Gaa. “The town is mourning a bit, and if they canceled Applefest, that would have really thrown things off.”
The fire destroyed the two buildings that make up the flower shop and heavily damaged two adjoining businesses — the town's bar and its senior citizens center. The blaze began about 3 p.m. Thursday and lasted well into the night.
Other than a minor injury suffered by a firefighter, no one was hurt.
Gaa did not know the extent of damage to the two other businesses — the Corn Palace bar and the Golden Age senior center. The cause of the blaze had not been determined as of Friday.
The fire showcased Woodbine's community spirit. Hundreds of townspeople ran into neighboring businesses and hauled out inventory as firefighters fought the flames, to protect the businesses in case the fire spread. They hauled old books from Woodbine Antiques and fabric and furniture from Denise's Designs & Upholstery.
“They are friends. They are neighbors,” Gaa said of local residents. “They may not always like each other, but when tragedy strikes, they aren't turning their back.”
Applefest celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The festival commemorates the apples that once grew here and the apple processing plant that once operated here.
Lasting all day today, it includes a flea market, a car show, a crafts show, and, of course, homemade apple pie sales. With 5,000 to 10,000 people expected, it is the biggest local event in Woodbine, Gaa said.
The fire will cause the city to make some minor adjustments, Gaa said. The car show is being held on Walker Street in front of the flower shop, and some of the cars now may have to moved elsewhere.
The fire also is a setback for the recently revitalized downtown in Woodbine, a community of 1,400 about 40 miles northeast of Omaha.
Downtown stretches along two blocks. Walker Street is a brick street, lined with old brick buildings housing an art studio, a soon-to-open brewery and also fixtures of small-town life, such as a drug store, a bank and an insurance agency.
On Friday, the block with the flower shop was still blocked to traffic, as insurance investigators surveyed the scene.
Inside of Denise's Designs & Upholstery, two doors down from the flower shop, the walls were largely barren as friends and family hauled everything back in. Owner Denise Davie, 60, said it took about 20 minutes for the store to be emptied on Thursday.
“You just wouldn't believe the manpower that was here. I think the whole town came down and helped,” she said. “It just brought a tear to my eye, to be right honest. It was just amazing.”